Purchased at a local yard sale

for two dollars, it belonged to someone

else, a young woman I would surmise


who left small feminine pencil notes in the margins

and underscored lines from her favorite poems

meant to be read by a man she loved


but felt compelled to leave.  There’s no

explanation for why their love had to be aborted,

only images already receding into memory—


I will remember the morning light . . .

Getting dressed for you before our meeting . . .

The smell of sex, your fingers entwined in my hair . . .


How can I ever hope to make this book

my own after she has evoked language

so intimate to these two alone?


Perhaps I need rather to adopt

the more cynical attitude of her lover,

who must certainly have understood


the importance of these words from his mistress,

yet ended up abandoning them anyway—

which is I suppose the fate of most books


and many love affairs—gleefully

opened, explored—and eventually discarded

to await the fresh caress of some stranger’s hands.

Tony Magistrale is Professor of English at the University of Vermont. He is  the author of three books of poetry: What She Says About Love (2008), The Last  Soldiers of Love (2012), and the recently published Entanglements (2013). His
poems have appeared in The Harvard Review, The Green Mountains Review,  Spillway, Northern New England Review, The Alaska Quarterly Review,  Cultural Weekly, Blueline, Slipstream, Common Ground Review, The Dalhouise
Review, and The Montucky Review, among other places.


"Before This Was My Book" is based on a real occurrence: I actually purchased a book of poems by Billy Collins at a garage sale.  When I got it home, I found inside a wealth of writing that was not authored by Mr. Collins.  As I sifted through both his poems and the various levels of reader response that an earlier owner had placed in the margins, a picture of a relationship began to take shape in my imagination.  I'm not sure how much I got right, but I sure do thank whoever owned this book before me--both the marginalia scribe and the person to whom she was writing--for immeasurably enriching my Collins volume.




Copyright 2009