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Bookstories 24: John Martone’s “A Little Alone Time”

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You think you’ll have to give up this old book-making habit—the 2-sided confusion of spreads maddening you, and the needle for sewn bindings bringing tears to your eyes—only to see you’ve taken up microscopy again, your writing table strewn with every angiosperm you can find. The microscope—you found it in Lorine Niedecker’s home town—is a servicable high-school job. You’ve got 25 single-concave slides, cover-slips, scissors, pocket knife—all those bookmaking tools. You get to work.

George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Nehemiah Grew, John Clare, Gilbert White—all their spirits swirl like floaters in your eye as you look down the tube—Ernst Haeckel, Chonosuke Okamura, D’Arcy Thompson, Henry Beston, Karl Von Frisch—Each microscope slide’s a poem, just as each poem’s a microscope slide, and when it comes to assembling them, leave it to you to be confusing. The 40-page string-bound book from Japan has to go upside-down and back-to-front to hold the poems western-style. You can’t bear your handwriting much less the slips and mistakes you make on every other page, so you’ll be the opposite of engraving Blake and print the poems on adhesive labels to cut out, peel and affix to each page, layer on layer on already folded sheets, an onion shoot, the whole thing a file of microscope slides, a field of nature.

And you call this solitude, a little night music, a little alone-time. Solitude—as if one could ever be alone in infinite life—though it feels so—being so small you can’t ever know how—completely lost—you’re part-of.

—John Martone

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