Potcake Poet’s Choice: Maryann Corbett, ‘The Vanished’

 In the autumn of 2015, the production of paper cards for library catalogs ceased.

No matter how long ago they completed their disappearance,
I still expect them,
perhaps in a sort of narthex just past a pillared entry,
or off to the side
as if in a private chapel, or straight ahead like an altar.
Shrined in the silence,
modest and single, or ranged in ranks and banks and rows,
the gods of Order
lived in their tabernacles of honey and amber maple
or oak like chocolate,
darkened at times from the touch of a hundred thousand fingers.
On every drawer-front
the face of a tiny gargoyle waggled its brazen tongue out.
And so we pulled them.
And the drawers slid waxen-smooth, and the fingers flicked like a weaver’s
through card upon card,
and above the drawers were our faces, our heads all bobbing and davening.
A kind of worship
it was, with an order of service. A physical act of obeisance.
Its cloudy replacement
(perfect in plastic efficiency, answering almost to thought,
near-disembodied)
hurries us past the notion of order itself as a Being
worthy of honor.
So here I am, misplaced as a balky fourth-century pagan
mulling conversion,
but nursing doubts that the powers should be called from the general air,
seeking the numinous
still in its tent of presence, and longing to keep on clutching
the household gods.

Maryann Corbett writes: “This was one of those poems that spent several years stewing at the back of my brain as soon as I read the factoid that actually library catalog cards were no longer being produced. It’s a disappearance not likely to be noticed much by younger people, and I wanted to give it attention. What eventually let my brain’s stew boil over in images of all the card catalogs I’ve known, I can’t say. But it did so in a rush, a rush and roll that took the form of very long lines. I’ve written several other poems in hexameters–lines with six stresses–and I wanted to do something a bit different–and to leave space to breathe!–so I decided to alternate the hexameter lines with much shorter ones: dimeters, or two-stress lines.

 ‘The Vanished‘ appeared first in Alabama Literary Review, was anthologized in The Orison Anthology, Vol. II, and was included in my most recent book, In Code.

Maryann Corbett lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she worked 35 years for the Legislature. Poetry: Breath Control (2012), Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter (2013), Mid Evil (2014 Richard Wilbur Award), Street View (2017), and In Code (2020). Past winner, Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. Work included in The Best American Poetry 2018, as well as in the Potcake Chapbooks Families and Other Fiascoes and Robots and Rockets.

Photo: “Catalog Cards” by Travelin’ Librarian is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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