- The Reader
after Richard Wilbur
I confess that more than onceI have tried to hide the bookabout an old house in Paristhat was covered with vines,knowing as I do that each nightit will be her choice. She slidesthe hard green volume from the shelfand hugs it to herself, a bookthe size of her own rib cage,declaring, Madeline is heavy!We settle in together for our returnto 1930s Paris (our bodies sharinga perimeter as they once sharedeverything), the wounded soldierwith the broken leg for whomthe girls are sad (he brokedhis leg, she says on cue).The tale of fearless, smallest Madelinehas become a script, her favorite.At her age she finds, every day,that for each word she knowsthere are twenty she does not,the language swelling, moving awayfrom her like a cosmos not boundto her small gravity—but here is a collection of wordsthat never changes, each onewhere she left it, a Pompeii [End Page 544] of sounds and pictures.Nothing could be more rightthan her patient, page-turninganticipation to interject, just in time,Ms. Clavel's nocturnal epiphany:Something is not right!Please, pick a different book,I've pleaded, but she is devotedto this story, and devotion—its familiarities, its threadbare habitsof love—is new to her, too.So stay where you are, Madeline,I append, for soon enoughit is she who will be changed,returning to you much later to findyou still dismiss the tiger in the zoo,still daydream the plaster crackinto a rabbit on the ceiling.She will return with the other girlsto bring you a flower, but findinstead a new kinshipwith your body's boast of scar(her mother's voice become an architectureof shade that lengthens awayfrom the words, each oneopened again in its crypt of ash). [End Page 545]
chelsea wagenaar is the author of two collections of poetry, most recently The Spinning Place, winner of the 2018 Michael Waters Prize and forthcoming from Southern Indiana Review Press this fall. Her poems recently appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review and Cave Wall. She teaches at Valparaiso University.