The family Bible fills my hand like a warm leather brick.
Eccentric scars mark its covers, as a winter window
bears frost strokes. Its spine echoes wide-ribbed bark.
One brass clasp still holds the book closed. Its twin
is lost. Water stain gutters every page, but the paper,
fresh, almost moist, almost breathes.
Joel Graves, first owner, put his signature
before the title page. His deep-black script,
My unfound history arced open before me
in my childhood grandparents’ home.
The boy I was, magnetized into attics,
family basements. Pried into boxes,
pulled strange books from shelves,
drawn to depth. From an obscure library
in a side alcove, a Bible
two-hundred-fifty-seven years older than me.
Between the leaves of Second Chronicles,
two strips of paper joined with a pin.
Judd marriages and children, in blue ink
through 1841. These are Judd relations.
Grandma Graves was a Judd.
Arched blue pen-smear across the back
with a hunger written, unsigned, solitary:
O land of rest for thee I sigh.
One Christmas at thirteen, the Bible was made mine,
festive-wrapped, sent off from its settled shelf.
On the final leaf, to John Graves his book AD 1762
and to my great-grandfather’s signature
refined in fountain pen, I set down mine
and 1968 in curlicued blue ballpoint.
Blank leaves faced Matthew and the Psalms.
Ancestors filled them with inventories
entrusted, magnified, forgotten.
There are three children under three years,
dead on each of three days running.
And this tally in three hands, quill-nib thin,
black tattoos on elderly skin: Luther Graves
died August 21 1848. Ruth Graves
died September 24 1865. Josiah Graves
died September 14 1868. (Here the ink
browns, soaks.) Francis Graves
died May 11 1873. Luther Graves
died September 12 1889. (This next pen
in narrow whispers.) Cecil Graves
died April 1892. Levi Graves
died 1872. Arad Graves
died March 17 1895.
I see the alcove and its fragrant paper dust.
The closet with my mother’s toy bricks made of cardboard.
Raspberry bushes outside the bathroom window.
Grandpa’s musk-ox photographs in his study.
Oh land of rest, your palm comes near my heart. For you I sigh.
David P. Miller’s collection, Sprawled Asleep, will be published by Nixes Mate Books in 2020. His poems have recently appeared in Meat for Tea, Hawaii Pacific Review, Turtle Island Quarterly, poems2go, among others. He was a librarian at Curry College in Massachusetts, from which he retired in June 2018.
© 2020, David P. Miller