The More Things Change

The Norton Anthology of Poetry

I’m riding a horse across a vast green field. Suddenly, we come upon a stream. I feel it is too wide, but the beast leaps, and its front hooves land upon some rubble on the other side. We continue across the grass. We come to a long rise to our left. I try turning the animal to go up the hill. I want to see what is beyond it. But my mount refuses to climb and continues galloping along the foot of the ridge until we come to the ranch. I left before any of the others, and so I’m alone there. Eventually, a dozen or a score more approach. When they arrive, I leave and ride along a river.

Rocks can crumble. Foundations fail. Guardian angels flee. Naked, alone, only me. Cast upon a barren shore. Nothing in sight but a distant horizon. Gone are the songs. No more feasts prepared. Festive memories retreat to remote corners of a soul oppressed. A hopeless land no one can find. It exists only in this abandoned mind.

Am I soaring or spiraling? I cannot tell. I can only ride upon the winds until they set me down.

Dreams and poems, the work of the wee hours.

Friday 4 a.m.

Dark and silent outside. The bedroom windows frame blackness.

It was a frantic week. A getaway week. So much to prepare. I would leave on Thursday night and awaken in Ireland. I would stay above the Liffey and walk the streets of Dublin. I would read and write and follow the footsteps of giants.


The dogs are back. The big one is on the bed next to me.

The guidebooks are on the floor at the foot of the bed.

The house is cleaner and neater than it has been for years. COVID years.

(“May you live in interesting times.”)

Things put away. Things taken away. Things. Things. Things.

The housekeeper was here Tuesday. Her third visit. I am finding surprises everywhere I go in my home.

“She got the candle drippings off the dining room table without being asked. It looks brand new—for an antique.”

I’ve just begun carrying the books I am keeping up to be shelved in the garret.

Garret Books

The gardens are lush. Several need weeding and mulching. I bought thirty more bags and have set them here and there.

At the new warehouses’ site, they did some more digging—to run utilities, I think.


I picked up a load one evening. Jagged things buried for thousands of years, I would guess. I set them on the forest floor and will build a wall soon.

In times of stress, build a wall.

Another garden.

I will take the truck down the mountain today and look for more rocks I can salvage from one property to haul up to another. Carrying rock up a rocky mountain. I question my rationality.

There is so much transplanting that needs to be done.

“July, fly by!”

The oppressive heat last month kept me indoors. Pointless to plant with no rain forecasted and searing heat.

August has cooled this mountain. I heard raindrops pattering on the roof during the last dream before the too early awakening.

A dream of horses. I rode for four years at Connecticut College. English Dressage. I looked good in black riding boots and jodhpurs.

The windows are open. The ceiling fan pours cool air over my bed. The faux fur spread is pulled up to my neck for warmth.

In August!

Silence. Blackness. When the first dim light of the false dawn comes, the birds will awaken and songs will replace the quiet. Which morning was it some songbird launched a loud aria only a few feet from my bed? I cursed the creature and pressed a pillow to my head.

“I want to sleep some more.”

And over all, the never-ending motif of books flowing everywhere around me in this life.

“I need to borrow a jack. And I need twenty pallets.”

“What for?”

“A library sale pickup. Two truckloads.”

“These books are crap, Larry. They don’t look like sale leftovers. They look like sale rejects.”

I had peered in one box. Then another. I moved to another pallet. Another.

“This looks like our pulp. Worthless work. Expensive to handle.”

I peeped into thirty boxes. Nothing. Not one thing. Not even for Books by the Foot. That’s just not possible by accident.

“See if they want them back.”

So, we are stuck with yet another charity screw-up. Last month the truckload from Chicago—a third of it was ex-library.

“Bury these in the back somewhere, Clif. We can go through them sometime when we are desperate. Label them so we don’t get into them by mistake.”

I should just pulp both loads without looking at them. Forty pallet spaces opened up would go a long way to help with the crunch here.

No. I can’t. Not yet. There’s always a chance…

An email dropped in from “Designer Services”—the Books by the Foot customer service consultant here.

“These people are changing this order. It started as 300 feet of Art and Mixed Modern Hardbacks. Now they are asking about 700 feet of Art books. Due date in New York City is August 28th.”

The manager is on vacation, so I put on that hat.

“How much art do we have in the three stores?” I wondered.

I composed an email:

Dear [xxx],

I’m the owner of the company and created Books by the Foot many years ago.

The manager [xxx] is on vacation til the 11th, so I thought I should jump in to help.

We can certainly do 700 linear feet in your time frame, depending on your specs and guidelines. (And if decisions are made very soon.)

Christina is copied here, and she can forward images and pricing on any of the options I’m offering below.

We can do a lot of Art, as we have 3 very large retail stores with large art sections as well as our stock in the warehouse.

Art can be extended by including related fields like: Architecture, Design, Photography, Antiques/Collectibles… even Crafts and How To Art (How to paint watercolors, oils etc for example.)

Also, Art is mostly “coffee table” size books. (Over 10 inches tall.)

If necessary, we could fill out the order if needed with Coffee Table Books. These are inexpensive and will blend well with the art. Other clients have made these less visible when installed by putting them on lower and upper shelves.

The Modern Hardcovers you inquired about would be no problem (depending on any specs or subject requirements.) These books are 8.5-9.5 inches tall, and so would have a different “look” when shelved with Art books.

There are plenty of other options, and we can tweak any style you’re interested as needed.

If you wish to move forward with 700 linear feet, we would need to get going very soon to meet your deadline.

Feel free to call if you wish. My cell is [xxx].

We look forward to working with you and making this project happen to your client’s satisfaction. [xxx]

700 feet! That would be fun. The voids in the art sections at the stores would fill back in like holes dug in sand on the beach.

The stores.

We need to meet to go over July’s sales figures.


All three are up over 2022 by double digits.

“Best month ever… Best book month ever…”

“Ever” means since the Millennium when the newish internet began killing off most of the world’s bookstores.

But we are getting closer.

Ernest and I went to all three stores for orders and necessary culling. As in gardening, pruning is necessary for the health of the organism.

People. Young people. Older people. Families. And everything in between.

Lots of people happy to be in a bookstore.

The dawn’s first light. And the first birdsong out in the forest.

“Wheet a wheet a WHEET! Wheet a wheet a WHEET! Wheet a wheet a WHEET! …”

The valley is curtained by mist.

A text came in Wednesday morning.

“She fell. The big dog pulled her over when it got spooked. Ambulance… X Rays. Don’t know if anything is broken…”

Uncertainty. Fear. Doubt. Has life just changed forever?

“Broken… surgery…”

“I’ll cancel my trip. I’ll come get the dogs.”

I wrote a lot that night. Dark work.

“Lost voyage.”

“Failed experiment.”

Yet another new beginning in these three strange years of endings.

John, 3 years ago this week.

Tony, April 2021. (I found my ticket to Muir Woods, where I fled to be away from his deathbed, but where I ended up being with his spirit.)

Emory, Christmas Eve 2022.

So many others. Changed. Estranged. Ill. Moved. Gone silent.


Almost all but me.

But I keep glancing back—waiting for that tap on my shoulder.

And that far horizon inches closer.

The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

May you live in interesting times…

I opened a bottle of Caymus last night. Thank you for reminding me of it.

It triggered my recall of you singing “Ave Maria” in the vast blackness of the empty cathedral that books built.

I’ll reach out to old friends.

“Let’s go play golf again. Italy. There are great courses in the south of Spain.”

The last trip was September 2019. Scotland. St. Andrews and then below the Firth of Forth. We stayed in a 17th century inn with quirky rooms and uneven stairways that seemed to have been built for hobbits.

COVID canceled the 2020 trip.



It was just a few years ago…

Chuck in Scotland 2019

Those were great times.

Larry dropped off a big load of framed stuff this week.

Framed Stuff

“Groan.” The stores are full of it. We should put them on sale.

“Wait! What’s that?”


Genesis. “In the beginning…” Gutenberg?

Nope. Facsimile, I’m sure. Why do a custom frame job on it, though?

Still, I’ll take it out of the frame for a closer look.



Well, most of those are forgeries. Still…

And a guy who designed his own bookplate?

Personal Bookplate

I’ve never that kind of pair up before.

I put aside a recent The Norton Anthology of Poetry this week. My anthology of “modern” poetry from college is no longer modern. I used to love flipping through and discovering new poets every few pages. Try doing that online. The footnotes were a great help to an inexperienced youth as well. These 1998 pages will be a great bed companion for the foreseeable future.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry

Annika is back and plowing through collectibles.

Madeline was getting ahead of her share and asked for more.

Be careful what you wish for.

Madeline Books

I met the two boys at the hospital last night.

Things are little a better, but it will be a tough road.

We discussed the future and the past at the favorite seafood place nearby.

I had the usual.

Martini. Oysters Rockefeller. Wedge salad.

Comics are back in the store. Their presence is increasing and increasing.

I reached out to the contractor about the bins that he is building for the less expensive titles.

He’s been ailing lately. Surgery. And his assistant is in and out of the hospital.


We get a lot of strange requests. This one is odd. Pianos aren’t as popular as they used to be.

But I bought one of these new on closeout thirty-some years ago. It cost five figures.


I’m giving out my late husband’s Yamaha Baby Grand Piano to any passionate instrument lover. Let me know if you are interested or have someone who would like to have the instrument.


We are piano brokers now? If you’re interested, let me know.

I’m in at work.

I could be crossing the Hapenny Bridge.

Then walking to visit Jonathan Swift at the cathedral.

And Joyce’s tower by the sea where the first scenes of Ulysses take place.

A Guinness for lunch.

Well, I was there in 2019.

Memories will have to serve.

My weekend?

I’ll be here with the dogs.

And millions of books.

Things could be worse.

Original version of the second paragraph:

Rocks can crumble.
Foundations fail.
Guardian angels flee.
Naked, alone, only me.
Cast upon a barren shore.
Nothing in sight but a distant horizon.
Gone are the songs.
No more feasts prepared.
Festive memories retreat
to remote corners of a soul oppressed.
A hopeless land
no one can find.
It exists only
in this abandoned mind.

Poem below:

Early June 2023

The light comes on
The clock reads three
Alone in my soft, soft bed
Pen, paper and me
No words flow
I could cast all aside
But I press the point
I make blue ink glide
over a pale yellow page
Where is my muse tonight?
Asleep as I should be?
I should stretch for the light
Push the switch for blackness
Lie and muse in the night
Let penned paper fall
And stare with eyes that have no sight
at the ceiling which memory says is white
An empty mind yields plain dull words

6 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    Sorry to learn that your Dublin trip had to be canceled. As always, the piece made for good reading–especially the letter about the 700 feet of art books–but many people are likely to be confused about just what has happened and to whom when you write “She fell.” This reticence, adopted for good reasons no doubt, does leave the casual reader tantalized and wondering.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Dear Michael

      Thank you so much.
      Life can be moving along just fine and then one gets smacked in the forehead by the “2X4 of Fate”.
      I’ll write privately.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Linda Tiller commented on

    Hi Chuck, Thank you Another great read…This was the best part for me today…”Try doing that online.” I am going to try to say this as many times a day that I can manage to work it into a conversation..and I am putting MY Norton’s at my bedside too! Great suggestion. So sorry about your trip…”.the best laid plans” and all that. Perhaps there is a reason you were kept back, which shall soon be revealed?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I’m so glad you liked it!
      I thought it might be too negative or spicy.
      I really appreciate your taking the time to write!

  3. Ken Jacobs commented on

    Chuck (can I call you Chuck?) 🙂

    I used to ride English Hunt Seat in HS. I had a crush on a girl who rode. The crush did not last but the love of horses did. I rode some in college and even convinced them to set up a PE course for credit for equestrians.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Please don’t call me anything else!
      Happy memories of pony trekking in Wales …

      Thanks for writing!

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