The Man Who Cried Caveat Wolfe! (Ok, you know what, I tried)

Yeah, that title just isn’t great. But it does get the point across. There’s a man in this story (me, last time I checked), there’s a Wolfe (Thomas Wolfe), and there’s a caveat (Caveat Emptor). It also makes painfully clear that titles just aren’t my forte, so let’s move on to what I’m caveat emptoring about.

“Buyer Beware.” In this case, beware that you might find some sweet friggin books at Caveat Emptor, a bookstore on the town square of Bloomington, Indiana. A Bloomington bookery since the early ’70s, Caveat Emptor is not the place to go if you want to find the latest Stephen King novel. It is, however, the place to go if you’re looking for an out of print edition of ‘Salem’s Lot or a first edition of Carrie. This place specializes in literary rarities, oddities, and antiquities, and the biblichor is probably exactly what you’re imagining.

Don’t know what “biblichor” means? Neither did I until about 30 seconds ago. And I’m not going to tell you, either. As my mother used to tell her children, “Google that shit.” (I exaggerate. She’d say something like “Look it up,” for this was back in the old-timey, pre-internet days of bookshelf dictionaries and World Book sets, both of which we had. Dark times, friend. Dark, dark times.)

Anyway, it was into this leatherbound and musty den I went prowling a couple of weeks ago, on a lunch break and wanting to look at things that weren’t electric screens filled with client emails. And I was drawn, as usual, past thick and intimidating tomes of history, architecture, and cat circuses (I made that one up, but I bet it’s there), and wound up, inevitably, in the little side-nook where all the poetry books hang out like cool, cool guys who use words like “bookery” and “biblichor.” (Brief side note: on this same trip, I found a copy of my own first poetry book, The God of Happiness, nestled in the stacks. I’m not sure where they got a copy, but considering sales were pretty durn low, I’d say “rare” is a good word to describe it.)

And now to the Wolfe. Thomas Wolfe. An American novelist whose book of poetry, A Stone, A Leaf, A Door, caught my eye. And it caught my eye not because I was familiar with Thomas Wolfe’s work (I’m not), but because Stephen King uses that phrase “A stone, a leaf, a door” in the latter books of his Dark Tower series.

“He cribbed that phrase. How about them apples?” I said, cribbing a phrase (I don’t think Matt Damon will mind). So I pulled the book and began flipping through.

Interestingly, the poems in A Stone, A Leaf, A Door aren’t actually poems at all. They’re poetic bits of prose the editor pulled from Wolfe’s various novels and re-arranged into poem format. The phrase “A stone, a leaf, a door” isn’t actually from the poem of the same name, as the book (or rather, the editor) would have me believe. It’s from Wolfe’s novel Look Homeward, Angel.  If that’s not found poetry at the professional editorial level, I don’t know what is. It make me wonder what kinds of poems one could pull from some of today’s literary masterpieces (Goosebumps: Monster Blood II. Cuddles the hamster never sounded so Shakespearean).

But the fun part didn’t happen until later that evening while I was sitting on my couch, eating whatever spinachy concoction I’d made on the stove (knowing me, it probably had bananas in it. Don’t judge.), and flipping through the book. A photograph fell from between some of the pages. The book being secondhand and all, I assume the photograph belonged to the previous owner.

It was a photograph of Thomas Wolfe’s grave, taken in July 2002 (according to the mark on the back).

Creepy.

But also cool.

Not only do I have a book of Wolfe’s prose edited into poetic structures, I also am now the proud owner of a photograph of the cement block that sits six feet over his decaying corpse.

To hell with transposing modern prose into poems. My new hobby is going to be taking Polaroids of dead writers’ graves and sticking the photographs in their respective library books.

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