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Pulpy paperbacks. Lurid covers. Cheap.
My father bought them. Read them
with a serious frown. Every evening
he’d bring home more. Threw nothing away.
Filled shelf after shelf, then box after cardboard box
so I had plenty to read, from Henry Miller
to Mickey Spillane to hack-job smut
nurturing my puberty.

Nikita Khrushchev was thumping his shoe.
My childhood dreams were of nukes
aimed straight at my bedroom.
The old man built a bomb shelter in the basement
where Mom banished the cartons of books.
Summers when air dripped of heat,
in the company of an old infested cat
I explored the cool underground.
On book boxes I sat by shelves of dry food,
a gas mask. In candlelight I sucked up words,
hopping like another flea along the glorious
hairy underbelly of American literature.

I started high school; they shot JFK.
A new topic for dreams: I noticed this girl
dark as the Potomac, bright as starshine.
Smart, freckled, wholesome as Cheerios
yet a mystery no detective had solved.
I took her to the bomb shelter. She took me
to her eyes, her lips, her touch thermonuclear,
her words softer than the softest porn,
her library, volumes yet to be born.


Joe Cottonwood has built or repaired hundreds of houses to support his writing habit. His latest book is Foggy Dog: Poems of the Pacific Coast. He’s a pretty good carpenter and a crackerjack grandfather in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

© 2018, Joe Cottonwood

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