Leonard Kress: Ransacking the Library

I stole them from the 10th floor reading room,
Where even grad students avoided crates
Of books transported there—the ex-department
Chair’s unshelved stash, a week after he died
From AIDS, the epidemic’s early days.

Each book illuminated with his notes
(penciled, sideways, and miniscule) from his
Own grad school stints in Berkeley and Austin.
Fear that the virus lurked within the pages
Left the collection practically intact.

All but the ones I slipped beneath my shirt,
Protruding from my jeans, I had to hug
Myself to keep them in, as I recalled
His Dallas drawl outside my office door
Always quoting Milton, how he believed

His blindness was precipitated by
A fart suppressed, who wrote of women as
A thick, intoxicating potion, who
Believed that only male virgins would taste
The glories of heaven, immortal marriage
Where song and sound of lyre mingle in ecstasy
With dances, where the festal orgies rage.
I read each book with care, and grabbing more
Each day. My officemates remained
Oblivious and uninfected by

My pillaging, the stacks a desktop hazard.
I knew that others also craved
Those titles, afraid to touch—a translation
Of Plutarch from which Shakespeare stole his plots
(Jaded Mark Antony aching over

An aging Cleopatra, no romance, heartbreak.)
The first I took—the one that stays with me,
A medieval treatise on virtue
That explicates the three stages of sin:
Suggestion, then delight, and last, consent.

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