Making Books at Hull House – Cynthia Gallaher

Glue with muscle, flat bone sticks,
a cake of beeswax, thick cotton thread,
pulled and pushed
in and out from paper pages,
making books.

Windows swing open,
summer streams in,
as jazz from our radio throbs out,
we jam with our books’ blank folios,
and they become
jazz books.

Young mother in the corner
speaks of how her child died,
cries through lessons,
watermarks pages with tears as she works,
her book becomes a book
of sorrow and forgetting.

And the old woman across the table
finishes her first binding,
asks in a child-like crackle,
“What shall I fill it with?”
Flipping through choices
is a new happiness, finally up to her.

There are different women’s circles
filling charted canvasses with nostalgia,
others’ suggestions of “what is art,”
looped together in matched dye lots,
but the classmate next to me
looks at the stitches of her binding,
lumpy as stray sax riffs,
some pages sticking out ever so slightly
from the rest, and says,
“The only thing perfect is God,”
holds her book
like a prayer book,
offers the flawed volume as she does
her wayward rhythms.

In this room,
what new things we create
are joyfully incomplete,
paper vessels for musical fragments we hear,
ists of clarinet, piano, pain,
some hot nights of love we play over and over.

Someone opens a book,
begins to write,
“If everyone made books this slowly,
imagine how many trees
would still
be standing.”

Cynthia GallaherCynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices (The Poetry Box, Portland, 2019), and three chapbooks, including Drenched (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, N.C., 2018). The Chicago Public Library lists her among its “Top Ten Requested Chicago Poets.”