Woman with Chrysanthemums (Degas)
Paul Hostovsky

He had the most amazing bookshelves
in his dorm room, which was next to my
dorm room, and the same size, maybe
fifteen by fifteen, a cell really, with three
walls and a bay window full of trees. But
covering all three walls from floor to ceiling
were these bookshelves he’d had built, or built
himself, out of wood, unfinished pine, lots of
intricate knots in the grain, paisleys and flowering
arabesques, and on these bookshelves no less
than a thousand books of poetry—a minimum
of prose sprinkled in—their vertical spines
filling the room with all the colors of autumn
and taking up all the wall space, and taking up
all the oxygen too, pushing and straining and
slanting to the left and right, seeming to grow
into and out of each other, crowding everything
out. It was just too much. And of course there wasn’t
room for any pictures in the room—the books and him
sitting next to the books in his expensive suit, lifting
an invisible cigarette up to his mouth, was the only
picture in the room. The interesting thing though,
the thing I remember most about this picture
besides the extravagance, the absurdity really,
of so much poetry in such a small space—the odd thing
was the impression I had, and still have, that it wasn’t
his, that it didn’t belong to him and he hadn’t
read any of it, as though he were posing, as though he
just happened to have sat down in that chair
next to all that poetry overflowing its container
and getting its dust on his arm, his shoulder, his hair,
like he was in the way, sitting there looking away from
that enormous bouquet like it wasn’t even there.


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