was thirty-five and looking for death in
every phrase; would meet you half-way if you thought you couldn’t get at it. He knew what you were saying. He’d find it. Was every month now giving me another Mishima novel—an empathetic gesture he thought because I was clearly a dramatic sensitive soul sinking, sulking, and deserving of a dignified, proud end. “You’ve only just started here; take it from someone born here: you’re gonna want to plan for the future.” I asked what he meant and he said, “Not yet. I can tell by your embattled expression you’re figuring it out though; your recalcitrance is eating up against you. You need sustenance. Mishima feeds us.” I told him I had Bukowski, Nietzsche, Blake; he said they weren’t enough.
I accepted that Seamus was old; I knew I
couldn’t be his friend by trying to cheer him. And his humor was reliant upon that moroseness anyway. I was twenty-two and still holding my mouth closed when I laughed for fear of exposing the metal braces gone years ago from my teeth. Seamus had a beard like bushes on his face so that when he laughed, which was not often, the bushes parted and you saw just a hole black deep. It was unnerving and usually you were looking up into it because Seamus was very tall. His curly hair brushed the door frame when he stepped out of Book Delivery, kicking those long legs like John Cleese almost but somehow not funny, just inefficient. Still, he moved. Every day silently onto the street for a lunch break that consisted of a five block walk performed three times. I don’t know why he chose Newbury Street. Always returned looking more sullen than before.
First was After the Banquet. “This’ll blow
your mind.” Then it was The Temple of Dawn. “This will utterly crash your soul.” Third and last (I said I’d had enough) was Spring Snow. No commentary. He expected none from me either, just a knowing nod. For a man who spent so much of his time (for all I knew all of it) immersed in books he sure didn’t like talking about them much. He had created and published bimonthly a literary magazine that ran for two years but he never spoke of it, and we did not carry it in our periodicals collection. I didn’t expect anyone else to talk about his literary endeavors; I was quickly discovering that self-promotion was frowned upon here. Seamus said he liked it that way. “That’s why I stay here, for all the ill it does me; where else will people not cheer you on or want to know about you, wish you well. I am thoroughly ignored aside from my function as a book-shelver.”
He was one of the more educated book-
shelvers, though far from the most educated; that title went to Jenson Brookstone in the Fine Arts department, who had four graduate level degrees to his name. “You want people to forget as quickly as possible your ventures into publicity,” Old, Old Seamus remarked. “Publicizing yourself is like masturbation; you’ve got to do it, because you think you’ll explode if you don’t. But almost always you are regretful.” We were standing in the PS stacks when he said that, and I was looking past him down the long aisle at hundreds and hundreds of titles wedged in and left for dead. Other stacks were worse. The Qs? Forget about it.
I don’t know how I brought myself to give
him a handful of my poems, the seven I considered the best. (Actually, at that time I didn’t think I had a bad poem; anything I could manage to complete was a successful poem.) They were strongly influenced by Henry Miller and Rimbaud. He took them without showing dismay, though I knew that I had just delivered a death-thrust; or rather, I had delivered into his hand the dagger with which to dispatch me. I had no doubt but that he would have considered it a gesture of kindness, nobility. I imagined him meeting the poems while full of drink, perhaps in front of a ballgame, for he had told me he spent many of his nights watching baseball. They would be taunted! Stained, wrinkled, mocked.