108 Main Street

A Line of Poetry

It was a small yard sale on a grand scale on believe-it-or-not Main St., a few houses down from the French restaurant and the stone savings bank, the last two businesses before the historical district. The late September Saturday morning was warm and as couples walked bicycles in the slanted sun, it seemed like a city street in Paris or Berlin. Art books were propped up against a low stuccoed wall. Above the wall, a patch of grass and a wrought iron fence. Here more paperbacks and hard covers were laid out, leaning against the fence. The better known Shakespeare plays were grouped together. A biography of Don King stood next to a travel book. There were poetry books, etiquette books, and photography books.

On the sidewalk, children’s puzzles, cardboard boxes of aluminum pots, old-fashioned clothespins. On the makeshift table (a sheet of plywood on stylized saw horses painted violet and light green), rubber cars and kitchen utensils, shoes and hats in dented boxes, a block and tackle, a brass porthole. The proprietor in a blue and white striped boat neck sweater kept a small green cash box close to her, to which I added three-dollars and fifty cents.

The two hardbacks were The Adirondacks by Paul Schneider and Selected Poems by Randall Jarrell, with just the last name of the woman’s ex-husband printed on the first blank page. I drove away with five books and five red lobster crackers made by Zylizz.

Driving home, I stopped for a six-pack, but before I went in, I read the first line of The Woman at the Washington Zoo, “The saris go by me from the embassies,” and realized again the physical jolt a familiar line of poetry can bring. I could have read the line anytime at home, but sitting in the truck, with a savings of $16.95 off the cover price and no tax, there is just the pure line of perfect sound, thought, and description. It is present again and remains present.

Reading that line, I remembered another line, another book, a New Directions paperback with a side view of an unshaven Ezra Pound in a plaid shirt and sweater vest, with the signature black and white cover and block letters proclaiming SELECTED POEMS OF EZRA POUND, the paperback that defines college bookstore used book sales and college town yard sales—it’s always for sale (original price: $1.50, tenth printing, published 1957), and whenever I see it, I open to The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter, and read, at least, the first line, “While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead . . .”

The lines are immediate and urgent. You receive the check you’ve been waiting for. You remember a voice.