Agrippa. A Book of The Dead by William Gibson

Agrippa A Book of The Dead by William Gibson

Agrippa A Book of The Dead by William Gibson

I hesitated before untying the bow that bound this book together.

A black book: ALBUMS CA. AGRIPPA Order Extra Leaves By Letter and Name

A Kodak album of time-burned black construction paper

The string he tied Has been unravelled by years and the dry weather of trunks Like a lady’s shoestring from the First World War Its metal ferrules eaten by oxygen Until they resemble cigarette-ash

Inside the cover he inscribed something in soft graphite Now lost Then his name W.F. Gibson Jr. and something, comma, 1924

Then he glued his Kodak prints down And wrote under them In chalk-like white pencil: “Papa’s saw mill, Aug. 1919.”

A flat-roofed shack Against a mountain ridge In the foreground are tumbled boards and offcuts He must have smelled the pitch, In August The sweet hot reek Of the electric saw Biting into decades

Next the spaniel Moko “Moko 1919” Poses on small bench or table Before a backyard tree His coat is lustrous The grass needs cutting Beyond the tree, In eerie Kodak clarity, Are the summer backstairs of Wheeling, West Virginia Someone’s left a wooden stepladder out

“Aunt Fran and [obscured]” Although he isn’t, this gent He has a “G” belt-buckle A lapel-device of Masonic origin A patent propelling-pencil A fountain-pen And the flowers they pose behind so solidly Are rooted in an upright length of whitewashed concrete sewer-pipe.

Daddy had a horse named Dixie “Ford on Dixie 1917” A saddle-blanket marked with a single star Corduroy jodpurs A western saddle And a cloth cap Proud and happy As any boy could be

“Arthur and Ford fishing 1919” Shot by an adult (Witness the steady hand that captures the wildflowers the shadows on their broad straw hats reflections of a split-rail fence) standing opposite them, on the far side of the pond, amid the snake-doctors and the mud, Kodak in hand, Ford Sr.?

And “Moma July, 1919” strolls beside the pond, in white big city shoes, Purse tucked behind her, While either Ford or Arthur, still straw-hatted, approaches a canvas-topped touring car.

“Moma and Mrs. Graham at fish hatchery 1919” Moma and Mrs. G. sit atop a graceful concrete arch.

“Arthur on Dixie”, likewise 1919, rather ill at ease. On the roof behind the barn, behind him, can be made out this cryptic mark: H.V.J.M.[?]

“Papa’s Mill 1919”, my grandfather most regal amid a wrack of cut lumber, might as easily be the record of some later demolition, and His cotton sleeves are rolled to but not past the elbow, striped, with a white neckband for the attachment of a collar. Behind him stands a cone of sawdust some thirty feet in height. (How that feels to tumble down, or smells when it is wet)


The mechanism: stamped black tin, Leatherette over cardboard, bits of boxwood, A lens The shutter falls Forever Dividing that from this.

Now in high-ceiling bedrooms, unoccupied, unvisited, in the bottom drawers of veneered bureaus in cool chemical darkness curl commemorative montages of the country’s World War dead,

just as I myself discovered one other summer in an attic trunk, and beneath that every boy’s best treasure of tarnished actual ammunition real little bits of war but also the mechanism itself.

The blued finish of firearms is a process, controlled, derived from common rust, but there under so rare and uncommon a patina that many years untouched until I took it up and turning, entranced, down the unpainted stair, to the hallway where I swear I never heard the first shot.

The copper-jacketed slug recovered from the bathroom’s cardboard cylinder of Morton’s Salt was undeformed save for the faint bright marks of lands and grooves so hot, stilled energy, it blistered my hand.

The gun lay on the dusty carpet. Returning in utter awe I took it so carefully up That the second shot, equally unintended, notched the hardwood bannister and brought a strange bright smell of ancient sap to life in a beam of dusty sunlight. Absolutely alone in awareness of the mechanism.

Like the first time you put your mouth on a woman.


“Ice Gorge at Wheeling 1917”

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Categories: Gibson, William