John Blackard, 11/2/2009

Current Occupation: put out to pasture under a large oak tree.
Former Occupation: librarian for 14 years; writing and literature teacher for 16 years.
Contact Information: Visit John’s website at or search for more info.

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Problem Patrons

You are working at your desk
When the security alarm sounds:
A woman is squeezing past the checkout gate.
What would you do?
Would you ask her if she has been in tight
Situations before and did she get away?
Who hasn’t felt they deserved more
And shitty when the break they were expecting
Didn’t happen.
How desperate do we have to get
Before we panic and make a run for it?
When it hits us hard— the breakup, the lost job,
The lump— we may be anywhere,
Even in a library with a book in our hands,
And all we want to do is find
The nearest exit and get outside ourselves.
All we want to do is take a deep breath.

You are rounding up unshelved books,
And you see a young woman in a study carrel
Razor-blading prints out of an expensive art book.
She defiantly stares back at you.
What would you do?
You see the straight-line scars on her arms,
The pierced nose, eyebrows, lips,
Then tongue which she points in your direction
And vibrates before telling you that you can’t possibly
Understand. She needs beauty in her life,
And you try to remember what Picasso said:
Something about art destroying beauty?
Ask her.

It is late afternoon.
You are working the reference desk alone.
A man doesn’t give you enough information
To let you know what he is looking for.
Your questions make him angry.
He begins to shout obscenities
And threatens you.
What would you do?
You feel the world slow down,
That you can dodge the flecks of spittle
Spraying from the man’s mouth.
You want to tell him it will be alright
If he sits in this chair and looks out the window
At the cherry blossoms blowing across
The courtyard and into the street,
If he remembers someone he loves waiting
For him to help them bear their sorrow.

You are shelving books.
As you round a corner, you see a man
Take something from a backpack on the floor,
Slip it into his pants pocket,
And walk rapidly away.
What would you do?
You follow him and find him sitting
In the stairwell, looking at the letter he didn’t
Leave behind, weeping and telling you
About a daughter who won’t talk to him
Since the divorce. She mustn’t know he followed
Her to the library and watched her study,
She is so grown up now
Ready to go to college.
He isn’t just another dirty old man
Hanging out at the public library,
He wants you to understand what it feels
Like to lose a daughter.

Near closing-time:
The woman again, crying and distraught,
Finally tells you that when she was looking
For a book in the stacks a man took
Out his penis.
What would you do?
You ask her where did this happen,
And she holds out her hand.
You ask her to describe the man,
And she wants you to know his penis
Was smooth except for the veins along
Its shaft. The tip was purplish pink
And spongy while the balls were
Covered in a down of red hair
And were lighter than they looked.
Yes, but which way did he go, you ask—
When you know there was no man.

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