What do you need? the Quiet Man asked
when I knocked again at his door.
What do you want?
He was closing up.
I don’t know, I said.
Woolf, Anbesol, Baldwin, Keats,
I’ll take anything.
I knew sometimes he slept right there in his shop,
with blankets on the bottom shelf,
history above, Bulletin
of the Atomic Scientists to the left.
Papers littered his desk
and the floor where we lay our heads,
letting the pure products of the shapely mind
inform the equally combustible body.
Who is it who says the closer you are
to an irreversible apocalypse the more fragile
We slid the dictionaries from the shelves
and opened them to apocalypse,
the word on everyone’s lips.
As if we could ever bid these joys farewell.
From Human Hours. Copyright © 2018 by Catherine Barnett. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.