January 2022 Prize Winner!

This poem won the Poetry Prompt Prize for January 2022. It is inspired by Michael Fraser’s writing prompt “Answer Poem”.

In "where do library books go to die?", we are invited to flow into a stream of memories punctuated by distance, poverty, plastic bags, trips to the library, and a mother’s grip. We move through the poem encountering questions that remain unanswered, left in the wake of the writer’s self-reflection.
— Therese Estacion, 2022 VOICES/VOIX Journal Editor

where do library books go to die?

Amanda Braam

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fondly I recall the fuzzy feeling of my mother’s gloved hand

holding mine, shielding it from February’s ferocious forecast

 

frozen digits thawing

frigid winds paralyzed them stiff

as the joints of an arthritic

trucker clenching the wheel

from Monday to Friday -- four a.m. to six p.m.

for the most part

 

in the midst of another bout of her worthless worry

my mother confessed to me

over the radio she hears of

head-on-collisions and

freak accidents with

tractor trailer involvement

she silently pleads that

it wasn’t dad

for,

“how could we afford our home?”

the pain of absent paychecks exceeds that of an absent parent

I know that’s not what she really meant

but it’s what she said

 

my mittens sit forgotten on the register

as we scramble out the door

this library visit is but a pit stop

even to enter the premises would be a waste of time

so the easing of my mother’s grasp signals the start

the part of this excursion

awaited with anticipation

 

there is a little incision within the brick wall

and a slippery metallic ramp

preceding a steep descent into a dark, cavernous pit

 

I recall trips to the playground

the silver slides; the kind that grew hot with the summer sun

you could crack an egg and have

a delightful sunny-side-up snack

given that there be no

landslide of children’s behinds

resulting in a preemptive broken yolk

and a squished dish

yes,

kids could prove a hindrance in the cooking process

 

my arm extends into the depths of a plastic president’s choice grocery bag

it protects pages from water damage

“single-use”

says who?

they can carry books, food; dog poop --

they outline our garbage bins

 

in the winter, when my boots are beyond worn in

my socks appear moth-eaten

so full of holes you could pray to them

oh holy socks, please keep my feet dry! protect me from blisters and frost-bitten toes! allow me the pleasure of playing in snow!

when my requests remained unrequited

my mom would employ the humble plastic bag

as an extra layer of protection

after recess ended, I removed each layer

and the same polyethylene tote

could carry home my soaked garments

 

call this what you will

cheap, dutch, frugal

I grew up playing hide-n-seek in thrift stores

among the racks of secondhand clothes

to the dismay of the employees; now they know us all by name

as do the librarians; infamously

our inability to remember to return or renew

but the books’ descent down into the pit

meant an end to daily monetary punishment

fines pile high

nickels and dimes

it adds up, nevertheless

 

I guide the books through the slit

in the same way a parent may coax a child

to take the plunge from a diving board

there’s smoothness to the sound

of the glide -- frictionless

then a long silence

throughout this freefall, I contemplate

what dictates a story’s end?

 

is it the reader’s final page flip

or the author’s sole decision?

is it when a cup of apple juice slips from my grip

and liquid gold cascades, soaking every page?

sticky fingers, crinkled paper, bleeding ink rendering

its physical form useless

or is it with this? the return to its place of rightful ownership

 

is this where library books go to die?

 

thump.

we’ve hit the bottom of the pit

mysterious in essence

an afterlife of visualizations

that severs our relationship

this is not a graveyard, but a morgue

other than the figments of my imagination, I’ve no means to immortalize

characters and plot lines with which I’ve bonded

 

thus, my sole reliance is placed upon memories

I recall them fondly

like the fuzzy feeling of my mother's gloved hand

reasserting her grip

as we cross the parking lot

to seek refuge from the cold in our old reliable red caravan

 

and we drive

there are no purple flashing lights

this isn't a funeral procession

but it’s what it feels like.