Old Strange Book
By Kathleen Ossip
In the story of my life there is a field
filled with chicory, daisies, and mayflowers.
It’s the field behind my childhood house.
In summer, I used to spend hours
lying in it looking at clouds
before my mother brought us to the town pool
where I spent some more hours swimming.
In the other seasons I went to school.
In the school there was a library.
In the story of my life there is a book.
The book was bound in rough green cloth.
Its glossy pages smelled oddly like puke.
The book told the story of two children,
Johnnie and Jill, I think.
They got lost in a deep forest,
drawn in thick dark ink.
They were brother-and-sister orphans.
They met fantastical creatures.
One was the goddess of spring,
or was that in Botticelli’s picture
that I saw in the same library
in a book of art history for kids,
old European art of course.
The other kinds they did
not want us to know about.
The picture was magic
and so was Johnnie and Jill
though not a children’s classic.
I don’t really remember the title.
In the book the goddess of spring
rescues the children in trouble
and then — I can’t remember a thing.
I’m sure there was a villain
in the book, probably a woman,
who practiced dark arts on a dark hill,
so evil she wasn’t human.
In the story of my life there is a hill
that tamely rises above the field.
We sledded there in winter.
In spring our bikes wheeled
down the hill dangerously.
I walked on the hill this summer
tamely, carefully, slowly,
alongside my mother.
It isn’t hard to say
what had brought us there.
We were old and middle-aged
in the knife-like summer air.
Slowly and tamely we walked
and I remembered the book.
It was called — Julie and John?
I wanted another look.
So what was the title?
And was it an allegory?
A Catholic one? (It was a Catholic school.)
That would ruin the story.
A story is only good if it’s made up
but convinces you it’s true.
Even better if one of the characters
is someone who could be you.
How else do you know who you are?
I once asked an old strange friend:
You only know you’re the person who’s with
the people you love, in the end.
From the hill I saw the house.
I imagined myself on the stair
clutching the wrought-iron rail,
a beanie on my bright hair.
On the hill I thought of the book.
That old strange book would save me.
But Google was not my friend
or maybe I was crazy.
Years had passed since I read
the book. My hair was darker,
my body had opened to make a person,
my cheekbones were starker.
Still I kept hold of the book
like a talisman or a bluff.
Any book I’d seen that was like it
was not like it enough.
Research didn’t help
and memory is no good.
Longing was all I could do
and making up as much as I could.
Many books have I read, many people loved.
They mattered and mattered and mattered.
I tried but never found the book.
The field is where I’ll be scattered.