The wrong book arrived in the mail.
It’s probably human error. But you can’t rule out
those old, shady forces, and because
there was a full moon last night,
and I sneezed seven times,
and just as I was about to climb up on a step ladder
to fix that light, the radio began to play Howlin’ Wolf
telling us he ain’t superstitious, I decided
there was a chance this was a message.
I had to receive Dean Acheson’s Fragments of My Fleece.
Buried within its pages lay the key.
I opened at random, per standard practice, and read—
Meanwhile a new drama was unfolding
nearby…Che peccato! I thought
that by some intuition she knew
my secret, but the question was purely
rhetorical. Obviously, courts and lawyers
were good for nothing. Her feeble replies,
though not always consistent, described
the catastrophe held up in his hands.
The poor man was metaphorically blown back
to the deckhouse. “Capitalistic pigs!”
The little girl smiled; the stout lady smiled; I smiled.
Could this be the zeitgeist
revealed at last? I glanced at the other two books
which arrived with this one, both of which
I had ordered, and planned to give as gifts.
They seemed suspicious to me now. What a shame,
I said to myself. All of my excitement is gone
when I read these poems. They lack
an element of fate. They have too much intended
meaning. They don’t inspire me with a fear
of cats. I don’t go throwing salt over my shoulder
when I touch the paper. I’ve never realized before
how superstitions are like fresh mountain air
to someone who has always lived in the city—
cold, sharp, clean. Maybe
it’s only a temporary adjustment
in my expectations. Somehow, I have to get back
to where I started. Somehow, I have to
thank the postman.1 ∎
- I will tell you what happened. I had ordered a copy of a book by Gerald Stern, and when I opened the package, here was this book by Acheson…I recognized the name, but I couldn’t remember who he was. Didn’t know he was a secretary of state till I looked him up. Anyway, I wrote to the people I ordered the Gerald Stern from and said, hey, I didn’t order this. They said, we’ll send you the right book. A week later, I got another package–and it was YET ANOTHER COPY of Dean Acheson. This happened after I drafted the poem, so I suppose I really was meant to get this book…what else can I think?