The University Cellar,
maybe the only bookstore in the world
founded because students got themselves
arrested, born and gone in less than 20 years.
When we worked and played there
we thought taking books as we wished
was an entitlement of ours. We were writers,
artists and, oh, so hip.
Not everyone took whatever
it was they wanted—
there are always a few good apples,
more honest folk than you can count
in every bunch. But I wasn’t one of those.
More than forty years later
there are books on my shelves
that walked out of that store with me.
Tonight, on the couch,
I am reading one of those,
a New Directions paperback,
Gary Snyder’s Earth Household.
Had I paid for the book,
it would have cost me $1.95
less the truly legitimate discount.
A half hour’s work would have paid the bill,
But at the time, I measured wealth
in books or a bottle of wine with friends
or offers to share a bed or a couch
or in how often the Doors of Perception
opened wide for me. Not money,
which had nothing to do with wealth.
And so all the books belonged to me,
And I to them. I knew title, author, publisher.
I knew hard cover or soft, trade paper or quality,
when they arrived, where they were shelved
and all the ones I learned from and got lost in.
I ran my fingers down their spines,
drank them with my eyes
and slipped them in my pockets.
Just so, the wet meadows of Snyder’s
Earth Household and the girl
“skirt blown against her hips, thighs, knees,
hair over her ears,
climbing the steep hill…”
real or imagined,
but always ready to play hard.
We worked there,
our lives ran together
mixing like blood and water,
sharing a bed with Lucy in the sky
or a pipe with El Tigre
the night before he left for points west,
reckoning he might visit
Snyder’s Lookout View,
unchanged from a 1935 photo
to the time seventeen years later
when he looked himself to find
“Same snow patches: same shapes.
Year after year; snow piling up and melting.”
And what Tiger saw,
when he went were
the same shapes and piled up snow waiting
to melt. But Tiger’s gone now
and our Earth Household in jeopardy.
The snow doesn’t falland we didn’t see that coming.