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Poetry #64
(published Late in the Year, 2001)
The Master Thief Courts the Public Librarian
by Melanie Kenny


She asks you, What to steal?
Silk stockings, books of house plans, ashtrays.
The city provides; so what do thieves go after?
Fresh raspberries almost black with sweetness.
All three volumes of a dead manís letters.
Where does a thief rest?
There is no prison other than our cancrine streets.


All happy libraries are alike.
In our metropolis, there is a librarian, constantly frustrated,
reaching for nonchalance as books disappear and reappear.
You turn an ankle at the sight of her dress.
You want something specific. You want to cut open her pavonine eye,
extract the feather of eye light and decorate a fan.
Think of the librarian, her honorable profession.
Her complexion is the temporary, burnished red of young birch.
How her color could have lasted in the city,
how the map manages to burn through the pigment sets her apart.


One spring, a theater manifested only long enough
for mismatched rolls of film to spool into flame.
Our lives shown black and white,
isolate color moving in and out of frame:
a finger of chartreuse over ice in a piccardy glass,
a sanguine hem under a dour macintosh,
You want to catch these flashes as the film caught them,
as the city pockets us all: secret,
until the projector reveals these treasures.

You, born thief, need secrets.
The city anticipates your thefts.
Home, another manís wallet in your pocket,
the metropolis has left contraband in your sock drawer:
a diamond choker from the butcherís wife
and a matched pair of ostrich skin gloves.
The city knows you, where you are,
if the prize will be there for your hand to take.


You enlist in her decimal battle
against the cityís mischief.
Bring her stolen journals of parachuting accountants
who were cradled by the city,
folios of shakespeare found on a shelf
mixed in with the money lenderís ledgers.
In the dripping cellars of the vinterís guild,
she cat-foots after you with armloads of musty Rimbaud.
The lesson you teach is simple:
the city is her circulating reading room.
See how the city enters us, pushes over into our homes?
The shifting urban grid shapes each warded lock.
We must be skeleton, keys of corners and bones.
Turn her back to the street, like so—
Look, the pick courts each pin.
The shim trembles through until the breach.

from The Floating City

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