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Anne Whitehouse


Vieillard ailé barbu by Odilon Redon

Julian was a book designer
who dealt in antiques on the side.
Two dozen chairs hung from the ceiling
of his one-bedroom apartment
in an East Village tenement.

Arranged on tables and dressers,
gilt and silver picture frames
held daguerreotypes and photos
of someone else’s ancestors.
Even the silver was mismatched.

We bought an oak librarian’s table,
four oak chairs, and a mahogany
bookcase with glass-fronted shelves.
The table became my desk, the chairs
our dining chairs. We found room
for the bookcase in our bedroom.
It held journals, my jewelry box,
photo albums and scrapbooks.

Julian later moved to Hoboken.
In the eighties, he died of AIDS.
We still have his table and chairs,
but when we moved to a new apartment
after our daughter was born,
there was no room for the bookcase.

I put up a sign in the neighborhood,
advertising it for sale. I received
an inquiry almost immediately.
In the dusk of early evening,
the buyer pressed me over the phone
for a lower price, and I found myself
yielding despite my wish not to.

He arrived right away.
Slender, with dark, curling hair
and rounded shoulders,
he wasted no time with preliminaries.
I was having second thoughts,
but he held me to his bargain.
He was forceful and aggressive,
and I was overwhelmed.

As he dismantled the shelves
to carry them one by one
from the lobby of our building
to his nearby apartment,
an empty envelope fluttered out
from the warped backboard,
four inches by six inches,
the upper left-hand corner
printed with the return address:

“Random House, Inc.
457 Madison Avenue
New York, N. Y. 10022,”

and addressed by hand to:

“Professor W. H. Auden
77 St. Marks Place
New York, N.Y.”

There was no stamp,
no postmark, no date.
On the back of the envelope,
under the old Random House logo,
the poet had scribbled a shopping list:


Around the list was a rectangle,
as if for emphasis.


About the writer:
Anne Whitehouse’s poems “In the Necropolis” and “Pauline Pfeiffer’s Folly,” her short story “The Faith Healer,” and two of her essays on Poe, “The Imp of the Perverse” and “Soldier, Sailor,” have been published with OPEN: Journal of Arts and Letters. Anne’s most recent work is OUTSIDE FROM THE INSIDE (Dos Madres Press, 2020) and the chapbook ESCAPING LEE MILLER (Ethel Zine and Micro Press, 2021).

Image: Vieillard ailé barbu by Odilon Redon (1840-1916). Pastel on gray-beige paper. 22.4 x 15.6 inches. 1895. Public domain.

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