This is a legacy post from a blog I wrote in 2018 about language, storytelling, and the shape of things. Delivered here straight from the archives, please enjoy the following issue of The Quiet Post.
There’s this book I found in a junk shop many years ago near Crystal Lake in Michigan. It has a dark green cover with gold foil, a binding that’s tearing at the seams, and a price written in pencil in the upper right-hand corner of the first page. Fifteen dollars.
It’s a book of poems by Edgar Allen Poe, published in 1852, but it’s not the poems I love about it. What I love about it is the handwritten inscription inside the front cover. It’s very short, just one sentence long, and the reason I like it is because it’s a mystery. It was written from a man to a woman, and its words trace a picture of their relationship, but its length means there’s just not quite enough information to tell an entire story.
Here’s what we do know: the man gave the woman this book in 1941. It was a younger book, then. Not quite a hundred years old. We also know, since I found it in a junk shop, that the woman gave the book away. Not necessarily the day she got it. Maybe only after having kept it close and treasured all her life. Or maybe she lost it. Or maybe the man got cold feet, and she never received it at all.
Maybe they were brother and sister. Maybe strangers who met for a summer and then parted. Maybe close friends since childhood, saying goodbye. Whatever their relationship, it’s pretty clear they loved each other.
And this is the point: there’s a story here and it’s riddled with holes, but I think the possibilities we can see through those holes are just as beautiful as any poem printed inside. By imagining those possibilities, we get to be the storytellers. And by telling those stories, we get to be in love.
All of this—their entire lives—for only fifteen dollars. In twenty-one words.
To Alice. Not to remember me by, for I’m pretty sure she will, but just because she wanted them. From Charlie.
Happy Valentine’s Day.