This selection, chosen by Guest Editor Jordi Alonso, is from The Ministry of Flowers by Andrea Witzke Slot, released by Valley Press in 2020.
for Michael and Elene
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 wood fire 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 blazed 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 shovelled ashes,
the couple marvelled 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 one book’s recollection—
a hymn for all they spared from time’s jawing destruction.