In a town east of here we happened on a used bookstore. We weren’t sure at first it was still in business. It looked abandoned. But the door was ajar, and we went in. Books and old magazines were everywhere, boxes and boxes of them overflowing in random stacks. The shelves you expect in bookstores, labelled with their contents, fiction here, history there, started behind the random stacks and sprawled into several adjacent rooms. It was as if at some point the owner of the store had been overwhelmed by the flood of incoming material and given up, letting boxes of books accumulate in stacks, no longer having the will to sort them into the shelves.
At first it appeared that there was no one there, but after a moment I spotted the bald top of a man’s head in the middle of the boxes. I said hello, and he from his book cave responded in kind. We, A and I, drifted back into the shelves, looking for gems in the chaos.
We often converge at the poetry section, if the bookstore has one. Some don’t. In fact, some so-called bookstores, especially those selling “Christian” books, hardly have any books, having given up the floor space to Jesus junk. The poetry section in this store was at the back, mostly used books but a small shelf of new ones. We began paging through them.
I have a system for evaluating poetry, especially useful when I know nothing of the poet. I read the first poem, the last poem, and the poem for which the book is named. I assume that the poet will be especially careful about the poems that begin and end the book and that the poem for which the book is named will identify the theme of the book. Over the years, this system has proven its worth in finding poetry I otherwise would have missed.
On the shelf marked by hand in aged ink, “New,” I spotted a slim volume from a poet I had not before read, D. G. Geis. The book was called Praise Music (Toronto, Buffalo, and Lancaster (UK): Guernica World Editions, 2018). The title caught my attention. I used my system for sorting through poetry, reading the first poem, “Magic” and the last, “The Dead Can Swing Too,” The last, a meditation on death, evoking both swing music and musical chairs: “Everyone whirls magically light of step/returning to their partners after every dip and turn,/and no one stumbles or trips over their own feet/or their partners, and best of all,/when the music stops//everyone gets a chair.” A great ending, I thought.
The title poem, “Praise Music,” sold me on the book. It says that “love’s true delight/is indifference” and cites the “mockingbird/which knows nothing of night or day,/but troubles our sleep/by singing joyously,/even in the dark.” Which is what poets do, honest poets like D. G. Geis. They sing in the dark.
Which is what all of us do. Or should do: sing as we can in the midst of the present darkness. “Now,” says the Apostle, we see as in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). So much we don’ t know. So much we don’t comprehend. But we can sing however we sing, you and me. Praise music.