Neil Aitken: “Searching My Father’s Books”


I find he has traveled lightly, covered much ground,
but left no more than the sparest of lines,
a scribbled note cribbed from professors past,
their stories also ended, the road carrying on.

More than wild beast, he leaves a faint trail,
a mark here, a path blazed among the trees,
his passing almost invisible. What meaning
he spies sleeping in between the inked wake

of others, he has left largely undisturbed.
Reveals nothing of Macbeth’s soul, Hamlet’s fear.
Even what he writes of the great white whale,
but cryptic signs, half-phrases. Everything

buried in the pale depths of what remains
unsaid. Why have I held onto these talismans,
bound tokens of our shared love of the written word?

What literature does—what it holds silent
between lines, in the margins scarcely seen.
The faint trace of another mind before mine.
Imperfect, grasping, and yet nonetheless pressing on

into the deep forest, the life half-journeyed,
the river half-forded, and still everywhere
abounding in ghosts.

Neil Aitken is the author of two books of poetry, Babbage’s Dream (Sundress 2017) and The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga 2008), which won the Philip Levine Prize. He is the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review, the curator of Have Book Will Travel, and the host of The Lit Fantastic, a podcast series. His own poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, American Literary Review, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Southern Poetry Review, and many other literary journals. A past Kundiman poetry fellow and a former computer programmer, he lives and writes in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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