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Sunday, June 17, 2018


by Bill Meissner

That morning of my tenth birthday, I expected
a game, comic books. Instead,
my father lowered an American Heritage Dictionary
into my open palms,
told me he’d give me a small allowance
if I’d learn the definitions from A to Z.
I felt the weight of the book, its embossed leather cover
holding in those 225,000 words.

Caught in the middle of Iowa,
I knew nothing of aardvarks or zzyvas.
So each night, instead of watching TV,
I leaned close to the gold-leafed pages,
studying definitions that often eluded
me, meteors that glowed a few seconds
in the dome of sky before they faded.

     I can picture him now, after work at the used car lot,
     his beige dress shirt creased like the lines in a county map.
     He’d lean back on his La-Z-Boy in the den,
     paging through the latest National Geographic,
     marveling at the ancient mariners who navigated by the stars.
     As a young man, he dreamed of jumping on a freighter
     to ports in Anchorage, Buenos Aires, Caracas.
     Instead, he got a steady job. Instead,
     he wanted his son to learn the world,
     letter by letter, and then
     go there.

Months later, I gave up at F.
I even skimmed some of the blurred pages
just to get all the way to that failure,
then slid the dictionary into a mute dresser drawer.

Dad, I’m sorry. The universe was just too big for me
and I grew away from those words.
But I’m finding them now, years later, for this poem.
Here they are:  each one
like the light from a small, distant
star, finally reaching the earth.

Minnesota writer Bill Meissner is the author of five books of poems.  His forthcoming book of poetry The Mapmaker’s Dream will be published in early 2019. "Letter by Letter" will appear in that collection.  Meissner is also the author of two books of short stories and the novel Spirits in the Grass.