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Archive for September 11th, 2014

Library Returns

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Hollis DedicationSuch things only happen in the movies, right? Actually, something like this did hit the big screen: think Serendipity, when Jonathan Trager’s bride-not-to-be hands him a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera and he opens the cover to find the name he’d been searching five years for.

About 44 years ago, William Hollis wrote Letters and Voices From the Steppes, a book of poems in which his friend and colleague Bernie — to whom the book is partly dedicated, and one of whose sculptures adorns the book’s cover — figures prominently throughout. Bernie’s children also put in appearances.

One of those children was Becky, who during that same year was beginning to take an interest in the poetry student who was editor of her high school’s poetry magazine: me. Influenced heavily by Becky and Bernie, I eventually doubled up on my math major during my closing years of college so as to have the opportunity for my major in English to be highlighted by some very delightful poetry studies with Bill. Upon college graduation, Becky and I married in a ceremony at Bernie’s home, surrounded by Bernie’s sculptures and the legend in which the Steppes poems were steeped. At which point Bill gave Becky and me a copy of Steppes, recognizing not only her own familiarity with the subject matter, but as much for me as a student of his. Ah, but when Becky and I divorced a decade later, in an effort to avoid any bitter arguments over division of joint property I asked only for Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (and one other item, meant more as a symbolic gesture the significance of which was lost on her). So Steppes went off with her, although she had by that time demonstrated quite well that, as Leonard Cohen put it, “You don’t really care for music, do ya.”

Several lives later (quite literally so) I am finally rebuilding my own poetry library, so quite obviously needed to add Steppes back to my own shelves. Suzi had just recently introduced me to the online wonderworld of one of my favorite local hang-outs — second-hand book dealer Half-Price Books — where a few weeks ago she guided me through my first foray: four Hollis poetry books, led by Steppes. Coming from various book dealers with whom HPB works, shipping info indicated I would be receiving three separate packages from three separate sources.

My first shipment brought me two newer Hollis books. Although all these books are second-hand volumes, I found mildly intriguing and a bit disappointing that one of those first two books with a handwritten personal note from Bill to the original recipient was in almost mint condition, quite possibly never even opened before for so much as a single poem. My second shipment brought me Steppes which the HPB info had described as also being “Signed by Author.” Having recently read online a Hollis poem speaking of the memorial service for Bernie’s death some years ago (a poem in which many of the Steppes characters re-appeared in a rather sad, very distant echo of the power of the Steppes voices), and guessing that Bernie’s own copy of Steppes probably wasn’t held onto by his beneficiaries, I wondered aloud to Suzi whether I might find this copy of Steppes to have been given personally by Bill to Bernie.

And then opened the book’s cover.

To find the dedication shown here. “Ummm, even freakier than Bernie….,” I said, handing Suzi the book for her to see. “This is my book.” I am the “Richard” of “Richard and Becky.” Almost 3 decades after I forfeited Steppes to divorce, my own copy is the one that finds its way back to my shelves, to my eyes, to my reading.

“Take what you have gathered from coincidence,” Dylan sang. A huge difference between fiction’s Serendipity and my reality’s Steppes is that my coincidence is no sign, no forewarning that anything significant is about to happen. I grew up sincerely believing life made great circles such as those in Dickens’ Great Expectations, and perhaps it occasionally does so. And this nice little completion of a circle is worth a contented smile, like at least one little piece of the whole space-time continuum has actually found its rightful place for a moment. I know Bernie would smile at it, at least, almost as if his emissary from a far place had come home to stay. But past that, no message, no sign. Just that one fitting moment.

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Written by macheide

11 September 2014 at 12:46 pm

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