Paul Hostovsky

I come here looking for something for you
among the colorful, breakable things
presided over by an elderly volunteer
who looks up brightly from her book,
then goes back to reading
as I sniff around for something
like food—not food but something
like food to take upstairs to you,
something pithy and buoyant
and wooden and old
like a good walking stick, a long
stout pole with a beautiful
twist at the end for carrying around
when walking in quicksand country—I want
to ask the woman reading if she carries
something like that.  Who knows,
maybe she keeps it stashed away
in a box on a high shelf in the back like
hope.  But I don’t ask.  Instead I finger the spines
of the paperbacks, looking for a book for you
that isn’t here, or anywhere—a book
whose old, damp, faintly sweet
bad-tooth breath you smell when you open
its crackling stained pages and read
that death is benign as a library fine
waived by a beautiful librarian
who asks you if the story of the body
pleased, then asks you if you’d like
to exchange it for another story
or give the stories up.  Give up all the stories—
I want to ask the woman reading if she carries
such a book.  But I don’t ask.  Instead
I give you the woman in the gift shop quietly reading.