Illustration

In a bookshelf at the dark living room’s end
stood the ten volumes of Journeys Through Bookland
which my parents bought when I was born.
Sometimes when I was alone in the house

–my mother dressed up and pretty, smelling
of Evening in Paris, playing bridge with other ladies
in silk dresses, their words chosen with care,
speaking of “homes,” speaking of “perspiration”;

–my father adding columns of figures, his #2
pencil faint on blue-lined, white paper pads,
smoking Chesterfields, coughing at his yellow desk
in the job he hated at Brock-Hall;

–and I in the shaded room, back from broken
chalk on blackboards, from duplicate tables
of multiplication, back from geography’s three
implacable colors, from the murderous schoolyard;

I opened a book to the picture beside Longfellow’s
poem: stark skull recessed in metal cowl,
sockets glaring like eyes, landscape behind it
empty, inhabited only by “The Skeleton in Armor.”

-Donald Hall