Shelby Wilson


for Al Brilliant, even though he probably doesn’t remember me

Those mild south Texas Spring mornings
you spent guiding and goading four college
seniors in the arduous art
of handmaking books might have
seemed squandered,
but I remember.

I remember the aroma of Earl Grey
in that makeshift classroom—
the Christian Science Reading Room
lent us through kindness—
even though our only shared religion was
a faith in the words on the pages
we saddle-stitched together.

We huddled around the table.
I know now, we were leaning into
your soft-spoken words,
wisdom you near-whispered
in your Brooklynite accent.

You talked of literature,
*******and travel,
*******and books you’d asked us to read,
*******and the sixties,
*******and social justice,
*******and California,
where you founded your
slow and steady press.

My klutzy hands would oft
poke the tip of my awl
clean through a signature of folded pages,
piercing my hand.
I’d bleed on your pages—
these spotted books, you let me keep,
proof of the sacrifice required
for the sacrament of the
enfolded black-inked words.

You taught me that humility is
not mentioning that you’d published
*******Robert Bly,
and Margaret Atwood,
and Leonard Cohen,
and Marge Piercy.

Once, Langston Hughes surfaced from your memories—
his serene, muted intonation
when he would finally speak after
a long pause, in thought,
prior to his purposeful reply
was all you really told us about him.

The art of making books is
lost to me now,
but the value of a life in books
has been collected, sewn, and
bound into me.

I think that is all you wanted
********all along.

Editor’s Note:
I love this heartfelt tribute to Al Brilliant by an eager student of bookmaking. The poet uses vivid descriptions of the bookmaking process, tying each one into a page of memory that finally results in an exquisite book in the student himself.

Shelby Wilson writes, teaches, and lives in Amarillo, Texas. He holds a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University and an M.A. in English from West Texas A&M University. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Ink & Nebula, Sparks of Calliope, Backchannels, BeZine, and anthologies from Madness Muse Press, Clarendon House Publications, and Elizabeth River Press.

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