The Literature Anteater

“The bulb has gone in the attic,” he said.
I imagined him sifting through old boxes
For old notes, for old books,
And suddenly being wrapped in cloudy, cold black.
He feels around him, finds his way back
To the ladder
And calls me.

He was a literature anteater. Poor vision, scrappy and quiet,
But with his bookworm tongue, he was able to find the smallest things
In rhymes and prose
That meant the most.
He could roll a quote from any author, from any poet, any philosopher
For any moment, for any person.
The smartest man I ever knew.

When he told me there was no light in the top of the house
I misunderstood.
I was half way out the door to leave for the hardware store
When he stopped me. He spoke slowly, softly, and then repeated himself.
I knew this was now not an errand request but instead, his best, poetic way
Of telling me that things weren’t all okay.
Darkness shrouded membrane.
Termites under milk wood.
He insisted there was nothing I could do
Yet told me not to worry – “There’s no prescription but there’s no pain.”

Henry Oak donated his books, his medievals, his reading light
To the local charity in the silence of midnight.
He left them outside in strong, plastic boxes so that in the morning,
Someone else could have the joy of reading them.

Better that than them collecting dust.
No wood for the burner, no cure for the rust.

The anteater has stopped eating.
The bulb has gone in the attic.

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