“Cover to Cover” by Ernest Hilbert

Ernest Hilbert


Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the
collector’s passion borders on the chaos of
—Walter Benjamin

I don’t collect them. They just accumulate,
Tower higher into shoddy columns,
Climbing weirdly like crystal formations
Or pillars of coral. The thought of their weight
Crushes, their coarse traffic of wars I’ve thumbed
Through, their long summers and snow. They weigh tons.
They slide onto the stove, under the fridge,
Into the tub. They prop open windows,
Serve as coasters. They have traveled with me
And slept beside me. They fashion a bridge
To vanished rooms, sorrows, and suns. Lord knows
Why I haul them from city to city.
I slip them together like bricks. They become a wall,
My greed, my fears, everything, nothing at all.

from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Tribute to the Sonnet


Ernest Hilbert: “Among the many childhood memories that strike me from time to time is one of a small, inquisitive boy scaling a tall bookcase as if it were a ladder or a canyon wall, to reach something, though the object of his adventure may never be known or fully understood. I was the boy, of course, and my mother would routinely lift me off before I fell and hurt myself or brought millions of words down in a fatal avalanche. My father, the first in his family to attend college (on the GI Bill), was an avid reader of everything from espionage novels to Pepys’ diaries and The Waste Land. As a result, I came of age in a modest home with an incredible wealth of books, quite literally thousands of them. As I grow older, more and more volumes gather about me as well, like barnacles on the hide of an aging gray whale. I feel an intense animal affection for the books I’ve read, but I also experience their incredible weight as if it were on my very back. How many things do we actually hold in our hands, feel in so many ways for so long before relinquishing? I use books to help me remember my life, to give that life fuller sense and broader contour. In a way, I still climb that bookshelf, reaching for whatever is to be found on a higher shelf. How can anyone stand to let books go? I can’t, and so we have my humble poem on the subject.” (web)

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