The Bookstore

Poem - by Beth Cato

grief took my mind to dark places

then my body as well

as I walked one summer evening

nearly blinded by tears, sweat, and regret

when before me, a clapboard sign:



I didn't have money on me but

I could no more resist a bookstore

than the sun a nightly dip in the Pacific

I pushed my way inside the stop

to be welcomed by a fuzzy mass of cat

curled upon magazines beside the door

I scratched him between the ears

to earn my passage with a purr

and only then

did I behold the other wonders before me

this bookstore, oh this bookstore

fragrant of memories and the musk

of a thousand years of aged paper,

various inks, and the sweat and tears

of readers across space and time

rainbow bindings a sinuous ripple

across shelves that extended

to cloudy ethereal realms

an interior sun casting beams

that haloed the wild-haired woman

who stood before me in a pair

of embroidered Capri-cut jeans

paired with a scarab-adorned t-shirt

for a Journey concert tour circa 1983

"what're you looking for?" she asked

her smile as careworn and ready to help

as my nightstand bookmark back home

the words 'I don't know' came to mind

but I knew them for a lie

I wasn't one to talk to strangers, ever

I guess my mom's strident advice about that

lasted well past age five

this woman was no stranger, though

she'd read me as sure

as she'd read every book on these shelves

"my grandma died today," I said

"I couldn't afford to go back home

when she fell sick, and now

I can't make the funeral, either,

because my husband can't get time off

and me flying with our son

is too much expense and stress,

and I wish..."

I wished a thousand things

in that brief moment

without voicing a single one

the bookseller, she nodded

and motioned me to follow

I did so as closely

as dog tail to dog

through a labyrinth across

eras and eons and big bangs

to stand in a children's section

where paperbacks with creased spines

and mysterious stains huddled together

as if for warmth

the bookseller watched with clasped hands

as I pulled familiar books

into my desperate embrace

"I remember reading this as a library book

after school, as Grandma

reread one of her Louis L'Amour novels

in a nearby chair, and oh, this one--"

these books wore the

inked names of strangers

upon their first pages

with the pride of an old-time sailor

brandishing a first tattoo

I didn't recognize a single name

but I knew these past caretakers for

kindred spirits

who had loved books I'd loved

and passed them onward to be loved again

the bookseller helped me carry two armfuls

to the front desk as I babbled

"this series, I found at a used bookstore

and spent like the next hour

camped against Grandma's pillowy purse

as she shopped the whole mystery section,

and these horse stories! I read them during

our horrible family trip

up to Sacramento, and this hardcover,

I have in paperback in some box

back in my parents' house

but I don't know when I'll make it back

and I can't wait to read it again"

as I set down my stack I realized

"my wallet's back home!

I wasn't planning to--"

the bookseller shook her head

"no one plans to shop these shelves

this store's here when needed most

when these books are needed most

"from the sound of things right now

you don't need to dwell on regrets

that itch like a hundred mosquito stings

"you need indirect memories

times when comfort came in the coziness

of a plush lap and hugging arms

not in direct eye contact or dramatic events

you need old friends"

she laid her hand atop the books

"heroines with quick wit and winged horses

in worlds where animals talk

and rainbows chase away the rain"

"but how should I pay?" I asked

as I gave the door-guard cat a chin rub

"it's paid," she said

opening a ledger marked by

two score signatures and near as many decades

the final line bearing Grandma's cursive

her loops sure and strong as in

the years before her eyes clouded

after near a century of use

oh oh oh

Grandma could write again

even more, she could read

"I hope she bought books for herself, too"

was all I could think to say

as I cradled a brown bag of treasure

near to my heart

"oh yes," said the bookseller

as she opened wide the door to release me

to moonlight in a world now

more hollow than it'd been

a mere day before

and yet as full as my arms

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Beth Cato

100% Love, poetry, Issue 25, December 1, 2013

To Walk Upon Clouds, poetry, Issue 28, September 1, 2014

How a Modern Green Man Grows, poetry, Issue 29, December 1, 2014

Leaf Dragon, poetry, Issue 31, June 1, 2015

A Sip of Starlight, poetry, Issue 35, June 1, 2016

Witch and Stick, poetry, Issue 36, September 1, 2016

When Stones Awaken, poetry, Issue 39, June 15, 2017

The Astronaut's Cat, poetry, Issue 40, September 15, 2017

The Bookstore, poetry, Issue 56/57, Fall/Winter 2021

Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone. Her newest novel is Breath of Earth. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

Her website is,

Get to know Beth...


January 13th.

When did you start writing?

At age four I started making my own books and continued to dream of being a published author through my teenage years, whereupon reality smacked me upside the head and the dream died for a time. It was resurrected about six years ago..

When and what and where did you first get published?

I had a smattering of poetry publications when I was a teenager.

What themes do you like to write about?

Mothers and daughters; grandmothers and granddaughters; the apocalypse; healers; dryads; selkies.

What books and/or stories have most resonated with you as an author? Why?

How do these stories and their characters find expression in your work?

I adore C.E. Murphy's Walker Papers urban fantasy series. I discovered the first books when I was starting to take my writing seriously, and I studied them on a technical level to figure out why and how they worked. It taught me how to write first person and how to create an engaging voice. That made it all the more thrilling when C.E. Murphy loved my novel The Clockwork Dagger and wrote a blurb for it!