Andrea Witzke Slot

Book Burning

for Michael and Elene, Coppwilliam Cottage, England

Bookworms of the wood-boring-beetle-kind
(not their six grown children who, when new
books arrived, devoured them one at a time)
had burrowed into their words and their rooms,
their secret storage of stories that lined
the many walls of their labyrinth home.
How fat the worms had grown with fifty silent
years of chewing, how fat and full and settled.

They set off to cull the infected books,
carefully choosing those beyond redemption,
piling them near the grinning woodfire stove
in the small nook of their coldest room. Then--
with reluctance, dismay--they fed the mouth
of the fire, stoked book by book, the pages
fanning as the grate chewed before swallowing--
in one magnificent gulp--ink, spine, carbon.

They felt thinner as the fire grew and gained
strength, until suddenly--in his hand--a lost
songbook appeared. He studied the book's changed
state and, with its heat on his knees, he flipped
its pock-marked pages and hummed a refrain.
His wife leaned near. They looked up. They nodded.
He slipped the book under his thigh, released
it from the fate of the furnace's heat.

Later, as from the pit they shoveled ashes,
the couple marveled at how the worms ate
through their words, nibbled at long-stored memories--
the sought-after-and-found, the times-not-taken,
the what-can-never-be-lost, the times-moved-on,
and what-can-never-be-recovered, struck
most by what they found in porous recollection--
what was spared from time's jawing destruction.

Spindles, Time, Cancer

"It shall not be her death."
--The Grimms, "Little Brier-Rose"

Briar no longer grows here, but the spindle
has done its work. One prick, and spiraled springs
unwind themselves as if a magnet sickled
the back of this life-watch, freezing clockwork rigs
that stop but shudder, a tremored pulse
without movement, an echo that parodies
skin and bones. The cogs no longer want wheels,
the rhythmed rush of forward, forward, forward.
Time's rapid continuum falls away,
all moments protracted, set aside, stored.
We are left to stand at her glass case, waiting--
adults telling tales that repeat and reform.
But we too are children. We beg for a fabled release.
Please tell us another story. That she is sound asleep.

--For Rose


Andrea Witzke Slot writes poetry, fiction, essays, and academic work, and is particularly interested in the spaces in which these genres intersect. She is author of the poetry collection To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press, 2012), and her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southeast Review, Segue, Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Poetry East, Bellevue Literary Review, and Mid-American Review. Her academic work on dialogic poetry as a form of social change and democratic understanding can be found in the critical collections Inhabiting "La Patria": Identity, Agency, and "Antojo" in the Work of Julia Alvarez (SUNY Press, 2013) and Dialogism and Poetry: Hearing Over (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), while her essays on the contingent labor crisis in higher education can be found in The Chronicle of Higher Education. She travels to England regularly but calls Chicago home, where she lives with her husband, the youngest of her five children/stepchildren, and her crazy West Highland terrier, Macbeth. Her website is: http://www.andreawitzkeslot.com/


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