That the true owner may have it again

Photo: ‘The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Aeneis,’ translated by John Dryden.

[This poem has a layout that cannot be rendered properly here. To view the poem as intended, click here for the PDF.]


From Boston News-Letter, March 26, 1716: A Certain Person some time since, Lent Dryden’s Virgil in Folio with Cuts, but has forgot to whom, and the Person that Borrow’d it is hereby desired to send it to the Post-Office in Boston, that the true owner may have it again; who will be very thankful to the Borrower.

1.

but to think nothing of the Borrower

who desires

that she should keep it

who knows

that no reader there will think to think she

2. 
The book makes a good bedfellow, much unlike a Certain Person whose throat grows thick in midnight cool, all curdled moisture and barking coughs. She can turn a page silently and cross a room with no candle. She can leave by door or window, and she swears she must always face one or the other, never the bolster or ceiling, for how can either help her?

3.

gloves
shoes
stockings
pocket
apron
dress
shift

as though

cloves
mace
ginger
pitch
soap
indigo
fustic

to be unladen, here crated on a gentleman’s chair, a room Jamaica-warm. She has blued and yellowed her hands, blacked and lathered them, too, and sweetened her breath with spices. She exhales perfume and a bird’s sigh over Procne and Philomela, perched on a chimney much like the one attached to this house.

4.

Each subscription being five guineas:

Each verse being its own transaction:

This is not very pastoral but she fares better than Dido. She is too enraptured to fall in love.

5. 
He says he’s read the book but he will not talk about it. When she asks after a word — for when should she encounter assuage or doric or such passages in Latin? — he draws her near. When she asks again, he says this and the lamp is dimmed or it isn’t and he reads aloud her body and not the answer to her question. The bunch and spring of the loins is not every word. Some, she will allow, certain some. But while she wets the cloth and rubs herself clean, she doubts that he’s read it at all.

6.

She should allow that the book was not borrowed in the strictest sense.

The door and the man let her pass freely without knowing her burden.

But he sleeps soundly, like a fool loved by God. She could put it back.

This is why he can never claim she is a thief.

7.
Queen Anne has been dead for more than a year, and the King had been in mourning. The same week the news arrived in Boston, a man in Rhode Island slew his wife and her sister, and he cut his own throat in gaol. He will be healed so he might die in service to justice, insomuch as justice exists for the mad.

His skin will re-seal, and his wife’s and her sister’s will not. The Queen’s skin admitted illness, and there was nothing to be done. Her own skin lingers on the calfskin binding pages and Æneas to his quest. She thinks of the calf. The leather is good, smooth and uniform and embossed richly; the calf must have been good, ruddy and fat and robust at the teat, and of a uniform coat, the hair of which was scraped away, gathered elsewhere to fill bolsters or a divan. Perhaps she has knelt or reclined or refused on this calf’s cushions, even this one.

8.
The news travels only as quickly as wind and sail and an easy sea admits, and her hair and the pages have curled in Kingston’s tropical air by the time his notice comes to hers. The advertisement says forgot. She allows the word; to be certain, she remembers more the drawn curtains, russet and gold, than the shape or weight of him, a knotted thread in the linen’s weave that catches the nail but not the skin.

9.

For uneven numbers please the gods
and she has plucked free the engraving of Æneas
receiving the Sybil’s prophecy and folded it boatwise
into the bay. She hopes it carries past the Palisadoes,
is swept north and north and arrives in Boston
to answer who owns what in true.


The 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical
FINALIST

We are pleased to announce this piece as a finalist for the 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on themes of historical people, places, events, objects, or ideas. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blind and selects the full list of 12 finalists from hundreds of entries. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.


HOLLY M. WENDT is an Assistant Professor of English at Lebanon Valley College. Her prose and poetry have appeared in or are forthcoming from Barrelhouse, Memorious, Gulf Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal, WhiskeyPaper, and others. She received a Robert and Charlotte Baron Fellowship for Creative and Performing Artists from the American Antiquarian Society and was a fellow at the Jentel Foundation.


Originally published on 3/26/16.