Shutting the Book —Philip Dacey
Grade school. Quiet time for reading.
Sr. Mary Rose patrolling the aisles.
Good little Catholic boy that I was,
all focused on my book, I didn’t notice
her coming up from behind me until,
stopping beside my desk, she flipped shut
my book with one quick move of her hand
and asked me, as I looked up surprised,
“What’s the last word you read?”
I knew but was too startled to speak—
guilt swarmed me as if I’d done something wrong,
though I didn’t know what—while she smiled
a knowing smile and went on, leaving me
too puzzled to return to my book
and wondering, as I still wonder,
at her purpose. To make me slow down
my reading speed and savor the words?
To relieve her boredom? I do know
I didn’t think as I sat there that she had given me
the gift of a memento mori, rehearsal
for the day a figure—also in black—comes up
beside me from behind, slams shut my book,
and asks, “What’s the last word you read?”
and I take that one word
with me into eternity.