The Librarian Tells the Bartender
Why She Hates Her Job
Every week eight dirty tubs of books,
one for each cellblock, escape from jail
and return to the bowels of this building.
I wash my hands, put on rubber gloves,
and try not to think
about why pages stick together;
if a cover looks clean, I put it on a shelf.
Most of the paperbacks
have been ripped in two, a statement,
perhaps, or show of strength.
I don’t know why they send them back.
Maybe they think we keep records,
take some kind of inventory,
pay attention to what they like;
but we just throw the pieces away
and dump another shelf of discards
into the yellowed plastic bins.
Since each time they come back,
the only books intact weren’t read,
the selection never gets better.
We just pick another shelf,
add a few in Spanish,
throw in one with Bible verses
and some grade school fiction
so any inmate who wants to read can.
What She’s Not Telling Her Therapist
She could tell him about the agile arm with its bony hand
that reached out of the monkey cage while she cuddled the cat.
She can’t stop thinking about the way that cat purred
until it realized what was touching it,
then did that gargoyle thing cats do so well.
But she has decided the pet shop only matters because
of the hamsters her ex-husband bought as a peace offering.
When she told him to take the male back, he said
they were both female; she was right that time too.
So blah blah blah-bitty blah
I can’t help you unless you talk to me aside,
she considers explaining that hamsters mate every four days,
gestation lasts sixteen; and so, shaking and crying,
her hamster gave birth when only two months old.
She thinks if she tells him about the ones she raised
while growing up who dropped and gathered pink blobs
as casually as barflies scoop peanuts from a bowl,
her therapist might understand why the carnage shocked her,
at first, but she knows he’d come to the wrong conclusion
if he learned that after disposing of the bodies and watching
Marshmallow snuggle the solitary pup spared to nurse and nurture,
she envied the way her pet had taken back its life.
—Joan Wiese Johannes, Port Edwards, WI