Congrats to Bethany F. Brengan of Port Hadlock, WA, our September sock-knocker-offer, the winner of September 2015’s Penn Cove Award. She has a haphazard blog and charmed us with her clever footnotes.
Marginalia, or Scholar’s Folly
I used to always read with a pen in my hand, as if the author and I were in a conversation.
(Tara Bray Smith)
The more you think, the sicker you get.
(anonymous student in my used copy of Hamlet, Act III, scene 1, v. 90–91)
First, you roll in the printer’s gutters,
streaking your sleeves black,
your thumb, blue. Each man sullies
the thing he loves, overanalyzing and under-
“Killjoy was here” on the text’s
blank thighs. We walk off the edges
of the words: here be beasts
that could swallow dragons. And eventually,
footnoting spins into soothsaying, into cross-referencing themes
in the material world and searching for text
to support your interpretations of living. Thomas More
scribbled in his prayer book,
hoping to “bear the cross with Christ,” while Henry VIII
amended his Bible to assure himself
that “the king trusteth in the Lord,
and through the mercy of the most High
he shall not be moved.” I try to resist
cluttering my neighborhood with
asterisks, but in every stone I see a sermon
asking for annotation; in every litterbug’s
leavings, an omen, begging augury.
Near the corner of Mason and Sycamore, the wind shuffles
a discarded deck; the two and the seven of spades
land face up in the ditch. I’m homebound,
and I avert my curiosity. But when I hit Cedar,
a dozen feminine napkins
has been dealt to my feet.1 This path
passes the school. And I picture the backpack
split, spewing squares of taboo—the girl
sprinting home, her cheeks as pink as the wrappers.2
Or maybe she scatters her petals
deliberately. A middle-school middle finger,
a “Take that, world!”
which the world silently took, as it takes
all things. And now, it’s too late—
I am white-rabbit-trailing, falling fast
down the pages of my neighborhood, losing the
narrative thread of my walk. Two gray titmice
have tumbled to the pavement in the past two days. [A coincidence?
A conspiracy?] I leave question marks
next to their bodies.3 Withered
roses are stuffed inside
a rusted mailbox.4 I highlight their
symbolism with a sunbeam. [A message
to or from the afterlife?] The maple leaf’s palm
requires proofreading. Commentary
devolves into strings and arrows of outrageous
punctuation, overlapped and undermining
every centimeter of field and forest, rain gullies
and side-streets, until this air is gray with
graphite, until my notes become nothing
but unreadable prayers: the original language
of all flustered observers
standing at the curb, at the bank
of the stream, watching
the body of text flow past.
1The Moon: mystery and magic, and according to Waite, the life of the imagination apart from life of the spirit.
2Dear anonymous student: Was it necessary to underline “Frailty thy name is woman!” so heavily? And in pen? How do you think that makes me feel?
3What had they done? Whose eyes were on them, and why?
4Anonymous student, I hope you are well. I hope your teacher judged you kindly, all those years ago.