I don’t know if Marlowe helped my business
he was an ornament
reclining in the window
or walking slowly over the table displays
with a tiger’s gait

one of those day-time sleepers
his curiosity was aroused, like mine,
when a potential customer came in
greeting them with a winsome cry or a yawn—
he may have been too great a distraction—
at times, I think they came just to talk to him
the locals who rarely bought a book
even the travelers who’d been here before
and said “Where’s Marlowe?”
as soon as they were in the door

and now it grieves me to tell
poor Marlowe passed away

Cookbooks and self-help kept me going
children’s books and Christian CDs
I tried to upgrade
with Billy Collins and Leonard Cohen who sold quite well
but when I tried the plays of Shakespeare
(Ashland is just over the mountains from here)
Shakespeare didn’t move

Marlowe liked individuals who talked to him
and was scornful of crowds
one evening this winter, the pass was closed
and stranded motorists poured into the shop
a bookseller’s dream
the cash register sang while the town was covered in snow
it happens every few years—
just before closing, ghosts of the storm, they came
trailing cold air and breathing steam

when the commotion died down
and the last customer left
I found Marlowe under one of the tables
outstretched
looking up at me with a steady, reproachful air
as if to say: “You’ve no idea what I go through.”

I found him by the river
fourteen years ago, a starving kitten—
I didn’t think he had any cause to complain

“Your only concern is for your own comfort,” I told him.
“You don’t seem to care whether I prosper or not.”

I couldn’t read his mind or know his feelings
I hope he didn’t suffer—
Tomorrow, I will hang a sign on the door:

Christopher Marlowe died last week after a quiet life of contemplation among the books he loved but was unable to read since he was a cat—the most wonderful cat in Siskiyou county.”

 

Stuart Dodds

Red Bluff, California

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