Joel Chace




               Six granite ramps rise

                     to glass walls that

rise into snow.  Come-and-go

         constant visitors, mostly

         from the circling-around

                   university.  But not

    all.  Anything might happen

here.  For instance, a child

runs up to her mother and

whispers, I found a river

to fill your cup.  A river found

maybe in some book, maybe

flowing, barely visible,

beneath a black marble floor.   

                                                                                                                                                   Hogarth:  You classical

                                                                                                                                     archeologists, who have found

so much in Greece or in

                                                                                  Asia Minor, forget

                                                                 this city.  

                                                                                  Lovers stroll, share

                                                                   plush sofas, or lean against

                                                      each other in the stacks.  One says,

                                                                                               570 BCE, he

                                                       was born the same day she hurled

                                                                          herself into the Aegean.

                                                                The same moment, I wonder?


Pairs of lovers walk

suspended pathways between

floors.  Walk and think:  best

way.  They speak about

thought.  Mind does not think

intermittently.  What it

is to be intellect does

not lie in its being thought

by us.  When intellect thinks that

                             existent thing that is an

                                   intellect in actuality,

                     it does not think an existing

                    thing outside itself, but only

      thinks itself in unconscious thought.

       Below that walkway, voices.  Other

voices that drift up.  Each voice drifting

                       up from a mouth, invisible,

                 below.  Two lovers embrace in

           a stairwell.  On the step beneath them,

       a dropped book    Mouth Pieces    has

            landed on its spine and splayed open.

                         Drifting up a stairwell, Mouth:

            both its eyes, two ears, one hand, one

                          leg, with foot.  Today it wishes

                                  to say numbers, so it does,

             thusly:  numbers.   Just the way it might

                                                      say lilacs, or way.



      “Why, Mouth, your eyes, ears,

           appendages?”  Head, face,

    arm, hip need them no longer.

                              Now they are of

                                me:  whereof I

         speak; whatof I speak./////

Now Mouth is tired of answering.

  This happens, since it was really

        born to interrogate.  Drifting,

again, in a stairwell, two eyes

observe, on a landing, two

lovers pressed against a railing.

What [are they]? What [do they do]?  What

[physical space do they

                                                                                                                                [inhabit], [and] where?  All other

unimportant questions 

remain unasked./////

They ask Mouth how it was born.

Again, it says.  “All right, how

were you born?  Again.  What

                                                              do you mean?”  Once more./////

                                                                              Rising from what is best

                                                                         known to what is unknown

                                                                                        in the unconscious.

  Those on higher floors look out

                                  into February

                       early-evening, liquid



violet light, over snow.  Later,

they gaze at a night, snow shushing

against glass, snow that drifts down and

                                                                                                 up, that could be ash drifting up, then

 down, up from and back into

ravening flames invisible

below, ash lifting

free from books, parchments, scrolls, a

world vanishing in fire. 

                    Out of the Library’s ashes, she

               rose, rises.  Tenth Muse.  Yet still

  hurled, hurls herself from that high rock.

                           Lucan:  Nor did the fire fall

                            only upon the vessels:  the

                          houses near the sea ignited

                      from the spreading heat, and

            the winds fanned the conflagration,

        till the flames, smitten by the eddying

                         gale, rushed over the roofs.

                               Her death day, his birth

                       day.  She made, from sacred

                             singing, new poetics.  He

                                   heard metal on metal

                               harmonies, took music’s

                                heart, turned it into only

                                        math.  Legitimization

                                                        as distortion.



         Here, it is possible, though not

                painful to be lost.  Passing: 

                     long stacks, receding to

          shadows; cases of open texts,

maps, daggers, goblets, astrolabes,

                  buttons, gloves; era after

                           era, under glass; era

  rhyming with era.  Then books left

              on hundreds of tables.  One

entitled Times Rhyme:

They built reverence for inevitability

into the arches.  But, oh, if only the elms

could have been saved.  The mind does not know itself, except

in so far as it perceives the ideas

of the modifications of the body.  Consequently,

she refers to reason’s rhyme and explains:  Immense, marvelous

golden wheels roll over me, each day more of them.  They

turn me into light so I can study the timbre

          of radiance.  Her neighbors spent the whole afternoon

                           in her home but never once uttered the word

      condolence.  They maintained that every night the dead

entered their house and were roundly scolded, told they had

to return to their own moldy hostels.  And they forced her to

      choose:  the cave is either the rock, or it is the hole./////

                Standing with her left elbow against the cigarette

           machine, she surveyed the tables.  She asked if we’d

       ever heard of that sort of rhyming before:  what did she



say it was called?  It appeared to be summer.  Eye

of the daisy.  Out there, rain blinded the barren,

stuccoing it only, but as soon as he emerged from 

that tunnel, they noticed the horror    mouth hole and

those hundreds of his hands.  Of course, her father

was in one of his moods again.  Out of

the ground, rising all day like a huge face./////

The circling-around

university and the

                    circling-around city can

be here, inside glass walls that rise

          into snow.  White and yellow

                   windows    university’s,

        city’s    become smears in wet

         snow against glass.   University,

   city are here.  Enclosed. 


                    advised giving up on that

                     old city.  But, with water

                                                                               dripping, echoing:  We

      supposed old Alexandria

                                                                                   was destroyed, only

     to realize that when you

   stroll on the sidewalks, it

         is just below your feet.

     One cistern, three stories

   deep.  Egyptian, Corinthian,

          Roman elements in the


            arches constructed from

   above-ground ruins.  As much

         cathedral as water supply. 

      Underneath the streets and

               houses, the whole city

is hollow.  One canal from the

great river carried flood water

            into perhaps thousands

              of immense chambers.

1842, the Croton

Aqueduct finally

brought clean water to

the city.  From the Receiving

Reservoir to the

Distributing Reservoir    Fifth

Avenue between 40th

and 42nd, where

the Library now stands.

           Mouth enters    well, hops 

                                into the academy.

           Long, lonely  — well, empty 

                            corridors.  Silence in

         those hallways.  Two ears hear

           another silence:  of ones who

           don’t wish to be found, to be

found out.  The great hall is ornate,

              unpeopled, terribly hushed.



Hand holds an unshelved  book that

won’t open.  One after

another, books that won’t open./////

Certain reservoir rocks used

for the foundation can still

be seen.  Cornerstone, with relic

box, 11/10, 1902.

1897, John Shaw

Billings sketched floor plan

                      on a postcard.  16 years until

                            completion.  Three floors.

                            $9,000,000.  $20,000,000

              for the plot. 

                                       Occasionally Mouth

                              wants nostrils, but knows

                                it can’t have everything:

                                 no chiming of resources.

   Eyes, ears, hand, leg    enough.  Though

                         one day hand picks up paper

                money from pavement.

    Mouth studies it closely, then

           wonders, If I had another

                                                                                    hand, could one give

                                                                                 the other this money?

Mouth drops the bill, moves on.

                          Mouth wishes to

           hug its own poverty./////

          Most probably that library



                   housed the entire of

      Greek literature.  Demetrius

         had at his disposal a large

          budget in order to collect,

             if possible, all the books

             in the world; to the best

      of his ability, he carried out

                    the king’s objective.

Carrère and Hastings designed

even the wastebaskets.  Pink

Tennessee marble lions:  Patience

and Fortitude.  Opening day,

1911:  very first

call slip, for Della Bacon’s

Shakespeare study;  text, not

catalogued.  First book delivered,

seven minutes after

request, Nikolai Grot’s

                      Nravstvennye idealy

                           nashego vremeni,

               (Nietzsche and Tolstoy’s

                                     moral ideas).

                                  If he should suffer embarrassment, yet still believe,

                                       and intercede for Zoar, and ask to be sent to the

                                    city of safety, he will find a place where he cannot

                             rest on laurels, where it is too close and small for even

                               the best set of morals.  Eye of day, or else true salt of




                earth.  So what lies deep under the threads?  He went out of his

mind while he was quite a young man and composed

                                  continually in the asylum, using sheets

of music paper he had been using for a very

different purpose, saying with delight,

That’s all the works of man are worth.  If a person go on

analyzing names into words, and enquiring also

into the elements out of which the words are formed, and keeps

on always repeating this process, he who has to

                       answer him will at last give up the enquiry in despair.

But at what point ought he to lose heart?  Must he not stop when

             he comes to the names which are the elements of all other

              names and sentences; for these cannot be supposed to be

         made up of other names?  The great bridge to the mainland:

       she walks it, aware that gulls are flying beneath her feet./////

                                                                      Here, picking up books left

                                                      by others on tables:  beginning with

                                                                         the exact pages left open.

                                                                                      Mouth:  Bridge.  And repeats.  One

                                                                                                            after another spills out

                                                                                                                  into a line at end of

                                               which a tiny, sad Mouth stands and

                                                              looks back to realize that it

                                                                has crossed all the bridges

                                                            before coming to them./////

                                                                      Here, any patron holds

                                                                                       an open hand




                 before a shelf’s empty

  space, and, like Athena sliding

palpably forth from impalpable

  air, the searched-for book will


                          To the Mouseion

    Ptolemy’s heir appended the

                      Library, which held

              an enormous collection

      of scrolls, including all those

the government seized

for copying, from foreign ships.

In the peripatos, they

(research students, really)

strolled and conversed.

Someone comes toward Mouth, and stops

                                                                                                                                              to stare. 

                   I see the person

seeing me but cannot see

me seeing.  And am I now

                                                          a mirror?    with a fine, finest

                                                                       mesh draped before it?

                                                                     Do I now take this mesh

                                                          into the mirror that I am?////

                 The one leaving and the one staying.  The one leaving

            shifts, blurs, and returns, shifted, blurred.  Part of the one

             having left is left behind, or a small something is brought

      back. The one having stayed must revise, must, because both

                         must eat.   Inhabiting has to be a truth; permission


has to be allowed.  Eyes meeting, pulling clarity

from another’s mind.  It is in the nature of reason

to perceive things under a certain form of

eternity.  Inadequate and confused ideas

follow by the same necessity as adequate

or clear and distinct ideas.  The case of language, you see,

is different; for when by the help of grammar we assign

the letters alpha or beta or any other

letters to a certain name, then if we add, or

                                subtract, or misplace a letter, the name which is

                           written is not only written wrongly, but not written

at all; and in any of these cases becomes other than a name./////

                                                                                  Unlike the academy,

                                                                                     the Lyceum wasn’t

                                                                     private:  often lectures were

                                                                           free and open to anyone.

                                                                                            1919, one-story

                                                                  lunchroom bungalow added to

                                                                                                       southern courtyard, which became,

                                                                                                                                eventually, the staff’s

                                                                                                                              social and recreational

                                                                                                                   center:  plays, puppet shows,

                                                                                                              readings, receptions, revues, an

                                                                                                                                       historical pageant

                                                                                                                                                  ending with

                                                                                                                                              dancing in the

                                                                                                                                                   main lobby.




                  Here, each night, some stay.  Pull

                                               together sofas or

                arrange them into corrals.  Spread

blankets they’ve brought.  After those long,

                        wandering perambulations   

                          rest.  Galaxies of flakes swirl

           in darkness. They’ve picked up books

                                   left by others on tables:  

                                    In Alexandria, thoughts

of Olympus flickering

and few.  Parabalani, the

archbishop’s monk militiamen,

razed what remained of

the Library, ruined

pagan temples, Jewish

 neighborhoods, then looked to

Hypatia, “the witch.”  Dragged her

from a chariot, stripped her, flayed

             her skin with fragments

 of oyster shells, dismembered

        her, burned her.  The new

religion’s triumph.


       to Mouth:  I really need

  a place more rarefied.  But

  for one arm, one leg, scaling

that peak is brutal.  They heave

   up onto the summit, bloodied

and drained.  Two ears hear

a torrent of wind.  Two eyes

begin to scan the circular

vista.  Mind loves it up there 

day after day, cold, cold

clarity.  Mouth:  What is that

green expanse down there?  Mind:

Nothing at all.  Don’t even

think about it.  But Mouth

        does, and days later:  I’m taking

          us all down.  And in that green

          field, Mouth announces, This is

                the Valley of Silliness.///// 

            Mouth readies itself to speak

              and tells hand to carve each

              statement into a fallen twig.

                      I believe with certainty

          that I have one hand      with

                      certainty…one leg      two eyes     two

                               ears.  And so much more.  What with

                                                 speaking and carving, time

                                           passes.  But finally hand bends,

                                     twists, weaves all those twigs into

                               the nest that Mouth calls home./////

       Prairies don’t apologize, but it turns out that angry

             banging on the piano keys actually can help.  Or

  there’s listening to Puccini while cabbage boils.  This is



   what some call Pre-established Harmony, which removes

                   all notion of miracle from purely natural actions,

                                  and makes things run their course in an

intelligible manner.  Meanwhile, the promise-crammed air

      and crocodile are still to come; blithe ass-grabbers wait

        outside the theater.  Rim keeps brightening.  Each day

                    the world unfolds its miracles, its atrocities.  He

             was almost the ugliest man I’d ever seen    and yet

                     the force of his intellect was felt in every glance

of his eyes and in every one of his abrupt

movements.  Schubert’s lieder’s notes, voice and piano, hanging

icicles in darkness:  wonder overhead, echoed, then fled./////

How about real donkeys?  If we could find one dumb enough

to starve between two bales, we would have evidence

against free will, at least as far as donkeys are concerned (or

at least that particular donkey).  Staid and staying,

the biting power, the hour, the state of wait.  An

analogous condition might be compulsive

                                       metaphor-making and, perhaps, punishing

                 rhyme.  With bitter remorse, he recalled playing piano

                                        as a child and feeling his mother listening

                     behind the parlor door; he would scream annoyance

                                and stop practicing.  Once there was a Garden

                Movement.  Once there were Decorative Hermits./////

                                                                            June, 1920, staff open

                                                                              a general store in the

                                                               basement:  groceries, tobacco



products, clothes, sewing

supplies.  1929-30,

busiest in their history;

often up to 1,000

visitors in the Main

                                                                                                                     Reading Room, SRO.


studied mostly war but

became one of the greatest

cultural patrons.  The Moueseion:

                             lecture halls, labs, guest rooms.  Euclid

                                                         and Archimedes solved

                                                problems there; Aristarchus

                                                      of Samos concluded that

                                    the sun centered our solar system. 

          For the mathematics to work, the universe would

                       actually consist of ten spatial dimensions:

the extra seven dimensions have rolled up out of sight.

                  Y:  I left it eons ago, when radiation started

                  to leak.  X:  I left just now, but Ted is still back

       inside.  Z is the entanglement of all three.  No drama

                                 at the event horizon.  Information loss

       paradox.  They pause at their entryway, unwilling to

           permit the golden dying of afternoon to relinquish

      them.  George Ives would have his boys sing in one key

                        while he accompanied in another; he built

             instruments to produce quarter-tones; he played

his cornet over a pond so Charlie could gauge the effect


                                    of space.  And can we rightly speak of a beauty that is

                                       always passing away, and is first this and then that;

                                                      must not the same thing be born and retire

                                                    and vanish while the word is in our mouths?

As George entered his house, he heard five-year old Charles pounding out

                       dad’s drum parts, tone clusters, on their piano with this little

                                                 fists.  They are particles of each other, so they

                          can be transformed into each other by charge conjugation

                                                                  and thus have opposite strangeness.

The computation necessary to verify

that Alice and Bob are entangled could take longer than

the age of the universe, and the black hole would

evaporate in the meantime, making it impossible

ever to go inside and experience the

contradiction.  Night, an old, starved crow, memory

and instant death.  There is nothing worse than a brilliant

image of a fuzzy concept.  Your parents are the firm

but delicate membrane holding back a sea that hangs,

                                                                     domed far above your head.  Pegasus quivers in his

                                                                     fixed place, jetting at some ridiculous speed, to pull

                                   beyond the sextant and the charts.  Ringlets to serpents, men to stone,

                                                         the winged steed rises from the Gorgon’s blood.  Anything

                                       to anything; anything from anything.  There have been greater days.

                                                   Forsythia-blooms crowd and crown our discontent.  When the

                                                                                   general character is preserved, even if some

                                                                          of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is

                                                                    signified:    well, if all the letters are given; not well,



when only a few of them are given.  I think that we

had better admit this. Lest we be punished like travelers

in Aegina, who wander about the street late at night:

and be likewise told by Truth herself that we have arrived

too late.  Myth is broken by the age that is sprawling

and daedalion, that has outgrown its application.

Forgiveness soaked up by a field once bright and green.  Each of 

the six flavors of quarks can have three different colors.  The quark

forces are attractive only in colorless

  combinations of three quarks (baryons), quark-antiquark

                pairs (mesons), and possibly larger combinations

such as the pentaquark that could also meet the colorless

              condition.  Whop, whop of racquet strings against

                      yellow balls:  too dark to really see.  The gong

                  on the hook and ladder.  The most musical town

                    in Connecticut.  O, how be heartsick, still?/////

                                                           Theophrastus succeeded

                                                                     Aristotle, his fellow

                                                             Peripatetic, in directing

                                                                  the Lyceum.  Having

                                                          presided for 35 years, he

                                                                   died in 287, BCE, at,

                                                                 some say, 107.  Right

                                                    before death, he bemoaned 

                                             life’s brevity    that one expires

                                                                   just as one begins to

                                                      understand crucial problems.



          Theophrastus objected to

                      certain Aristotelian

               notions concerning the

                    existence of a Prime

                         Mover, as well as

                     universal teleology. 

Mandelstam:  The past has not

         even been born yet; it has

            never truly come to pass.

I want Ovid, Pushkin, and

Catullus once more; the

historical Ovid, Pushkin

and Catullus are not

enough for me.

A.D. 365, August

21, the sea abruptly

drained from Alexandria’s

harbor:  ships and fish left in

sand.  Citizens walked into the

         empty space, just before

     a huge tsunami rolled over

the once-harbor, over houses

and other buildings.  At least

50,000 dead.  The beginning

                       of 200 years of

                    earthquakes and

                       rising sea levels.



Cassius Dio:  Toward 

the philosophers who were called

Aristotelians, Antoninus

showed bitter hatred in every

way, even going so far

as to desire to burn their books, and

in particular he abolished

their common messes in

Alexandria and all

                     the other privileges that they

                         had enjoyed; his grievance

               against them was that Aristotle

  was supposed to have been concerned

                        in the death of Alexander.

                                            Researching in

          wet suits the old harbor, mapping

                                   quays, royal quarter,

                     perhaps the actual palace of

                           Cleopatra.  And the

           Pharos, lighthouse that once

        soared forty stories.  Plutarch:

               The Peripatetics no longer

                 possess the original texts  

                                  of Aristotle and

Theophrastus because they have

                fallen into idle and base

                    hands.  1911, all staff



                       supplied with rubber-soled

   shoes because the marble floors were

            deemed too hard.  The O’Sullivan

                   Company exhorted people to

                     patronize the library where

       employees wore the firm’s product.

                                         Left open on this

                                               table, a book:

                  Think fast!  This, Mouth never

does.  Thus, hurled rock takes out an

              eye.  Mind sends pain along.  Hand tries

to touch the gone orbital.

So.  But gone is gone.  Now, then,

this loss is a part of me.  Don’t

weep, one eye.  Just, more clearly, see./////

Hard it is for hand to shuffle,

deal, hold, and sort.  Single eye must

squint to see.  Mouth, though, enjoys

                     this game, for awhile, and

               especially likes numbers, both

                red and black, the only cards

             Mouth receives.  3. Red. What

             do they mean?  9?  Black?  He

             loses.  Pay up.  But Mouth has

              nothing.  Then I will take that

                     ear.  And it is gone.  Mind

                 suspects a bad pattern./////




Mouth’s impoverished lease on life:

eye, ear, hand, leg now all on just

one side.  Dizzy-listing, Mouth finds

it can no longer drift, yet, still

wishing to rise, searches

for leaned-already ladders.

Rung.  Rung.  Rung.  Poor hand, leg 

nearly done for.  Hoisted, finally,

to the roof, Mouth sees    no going

                                          back:  down, impossibly

                    harder.  Leg kicks ladder away./////

                               On the cathedral roof, Mouth

takes stock.  Clouds:  gold; blood-orange.  Bells

                                          trembled by this steady

                                wind.  Below, rough fabric of

                                                 city.  In that corner,

                                 black column of smoke rises.

                       Heightens.  Enlarges.  Approaches.

                    Eye twitches.  Mouth wants

                               the ladder back./////

                     Tree city.  Who decides? 

                        even this cathedral, made

       of wood.  What?    that expanding

wall of flame.  Where?    too close, to

           my high refuge.  What?    being

                      in a pickle.  So Mouth rides

          roof down to ground, now cindery.




That wall has moved past, beyond./////

                    Remaining eye smeared into

                                    jelly, remaining ear

              nowhere to be found, hand and

                     leg severed, Mouth can only

                   roll, hauling mind along./////

                           Conflagrations, that high

         rock, chambers, parchments, ruins,

               rivers, temples, neighborhoods,

patience, fortitude,

grammars, bridges, lieder,

dancing, rims, religion, gulls,

silence, silliness, clothes,

crocodiles, catalogues,

asylum, ships, summits, guest

rooms, strangeness, ten

dimensions, metal on

metal, bells, fish, harbors,

                                                                                            ladders, drums, quays,

                                                                        quarter-tones, towers:  all can be

                here.  Here, picking up books left

                               by others on tables:  best

                         books to read, beginning with

                                 the exact pages left open. 

                                                              Many leave here, a leaving that’s hardly

                                                            death.  Some stay, a staying that’s hardly

                                                        exile, that’s a welcoming of night and snow.


Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as, Tip of the Knife, Eratio, Otoliths, Word For/Word, and Golden Handcuffs Review. Most recent collections include Humors, from Paloma Press, Threnodies, from Moria Books, and fata morgana, from Unlikely Books.
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