Katherine Bode-Lang


I spent that summer tucked behind the library’s stacks
with broken books, repairing bends and tatters,
erasing pencil marks, tipping in the missing pages.
Old books, weak and torn books, all came to my table–

covers like rags. I undressed them further: removed
battered cloth with cuts through the spine and name,
down inside joints still holding flapping limbs to well-stitched pages.
Once undone, I would fashion a cast–red, green, black, or blue–

cut cloth and bristol board, build a new spine,
fasten on the covers with a batch of glue I made that week.
The dressing so fitted, I would paint pages back together, layer tissue
over tears, splint the bent corners, slip waxed paper

under the eyelids of the book. In my windowless room,
a ward of old books lay quiet, pinned and drying
between bricks and boards. My handwriting later named them,
numbered and tagged them, sent them back to metal shelves.

Olbers’ Paradox

“Were the succession of stars endless,
then the background of the sky would
present us an uniform luminosity”
~Edgar Allan Poe, “Eureka” (1848)

I can hardly handle the stars. Too many
little suns when the galaxy spins out
into arms, brushing against the bodies
of other galaxies just as bright.
Everything falls apart when I look up,
when it gets too big. But not for Poe.
The paradox is simple: the sky

should glow. With all those stars, how is there ever
any night? I like to imagine him
looking up; realizing his eyes–careful
as they measure light–do not shrink,
do not narrow the pupils to a point. No,
instead this: dilation, opening, eyes rounding out
in recognition. His irises collect the dark
that shouldn’t be. Before theories and redshift,
before Hubble, he imagined the bang of it all.

And yet I like to hope that when
he shut his lids, he could not see endless
expansion, could not feel the axis tip
or spin. Perhaps, like me, he could only
be certain of night, the galaxy’s eventual collapse,
the moon coming in, then out, of our shadow.

The Dying of the Bees

Lake Michigan, 2006

We expect carp and alewives,
slack and rotting along the shore.
Surely shells, inhabitants long wrung out.
But here, belly-up, are bees.

Not starfish, nor crabs, not beached
and heaving whales: we cannot
throw their landlocked bodies back.
The bees are restless as they die; we walk

cautious of their up-aimed barbs.
It’s June, and later we’ll call this
a long summer; how we counted
the wooden stairs up the dune

once waves took the bees–no one
ever did know why the sudden storm
of dying, not even the man
who walked the stairs each dusk, hammer
in hand, pounding back errant nails.