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  • Xylotheque, and: Feat
  • David Barber (bio)


Look it up: each piece of workIn its rightful place, each bookcaseChockablock with codexesOf every type, lest we forgetTo know of what we speak.

All well and good to hewTo the spirit of the letter, but hereLet the bookworm behold each opusIn its element, the better to graspThe true grain of the thing.

Pick one out: that’s the heftA wordsmith covets, the stuffBlockbusters are made of, a textThat’s a handbook on itselfRight here at your fingertips.

Lest we forget: each book a blockUnlike the next, a complete setTo leaf through when all butThe artifact is lost, each workThe last word on its subject.

Or better yet, each book a boxFor taking stock, the contentsSpelled out with a strip of barkAlong the spine, a work of artMade out of what it’s all about. [End Page 54]


Prowess is never so redoubtableAs when known to progress byImperceptible degrees, little byLittle until the most remarkableDeed becomes the demonstrableByproduct of some humbleRoutine, a process so intangibleAs to resemble an invisibleBulwark against the most formidableMortal trial, the same principle byWhich days are said to crawl byAnd yet fly—as when a little boyAmbling by the family stableHefts a calf’s bony wobbleWithout a lick of troubleAnd proceeds to test his mettle byMaking it his indefatigableDaily constitutional, until byAnd by he’s the veritableStuff of fable, that invincibleClassical grappler hailed byHis people as impossibleTo topple from his pedestal, therebyLending a little less inconceivableOr a thimbleful more irresistibleWeight to those who swear byHow he keeps in fighting trim byToting on his back a bull. [End Page 55]

David Barber

david barber’s most recent book of poems is Wonder Cabinet. The poems in this issue will appear in his forthcoming collection, Secret History. He is poetry editor at the Atlantic.



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pp. 54-55
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