Saturday, January 8, 2011

"The Book" by Miller Williams

I held it in my hands while he told the story.

He had found it in a fallen bunker,
a book for notes with all the pages blank.
He took it to keep for a sketch book and diary.

He learned years later, when he showed the book 
to an old bookbinder, who paled, and stepped back
 a long step and told him what he held,
what he had laid the days of his life in,
It's bound, the binder said, in human skin.

I stood turning it over in my hands,
turning it in my head. Human skin.

What child did this skin fit? What man, what woman?
Dragged still full of its flesh from what dream?

Who took it off the meat? Some other one
who stayed alive by knowing how to do this?

I stared at the changing book and a horror grew,
I stared and a horror grew, which was, which is,
how beautiful it was until I knew.

I couldn't help liking this poem. It's just so creepy! To think of holding a book, pouring your life into it, and then finding its made of human skin! It's disgusting...but enthralling. Perhaps the creepiest part is that the man in the poem "had laid the days of his life in" the book. He didn't just own it; he took it and made is the record of his life. Imagine what that means, to have your life recorded in human skin. Dead human skin. It seems that it must necessarily taint the record. And how strange that the book should be surrounded by destruction, made by the death of a person, found in a "fallen bunker," the broken relic of war.

A man picks up a book and records his life in it, not knowing it has been made of human skin. It takes a very specified, experienced, and not to mention rare expert to reveal the book's true nature. But by that time, the man's life was already bound in human skin. Think of the awfulness, the horror, the destruction -- "What child did this skin fit? What man, what woman?/ Dragged still full of its flesh form what dream?/ Who took it off the meat? Some other one who stayed alive by knowing how to do this?" -- and the man has chosen to record his life in it. The book represents murder, greed, perversion, the worst of human impulses. It is possibly the most disgusting thing anyone could hold. The speaker holds it with growing horror, but the man -- the man didn't just hold, he recorded his life in it. And the worst part is "how beautiful it was until I knew."

Creepy! Disgusting! But far too true. As Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter said, "Humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things which are worst for them." For some reason, we see truly ugly things as beautiful. True, they can be well hidden and well disguised, but that can never change what they are. Hate, lust, murder, selfishness, all can be carefully disguised.  Hitler did it perfectly. He was beyond corruption, his works were pure evil, yet he spoke in such a way as to have people believe in him. The Nazi's not only tolerated it, they bound their lives in in, believing they were completely right. Think of slavery, especially in America, in the South. People grew up with it, were raised by it, made their livelihoods by it. Good people, they believed. God fearing people. Christian people. They were like lords and ladies, with their elegant dress, their fancy parties, their beautiful lives. But it was all bound in slavery, as disgusting as a book bound by human skin. But they didn't know, they couldn't see how awful it was. They didn't see the horror. They only saw something beautiful to lay their lives in. They fought a war to protect it, their beautiful lives, their beautiful slavery, because they didn't see the destruction is came from or the destruction it continued to cause. Such terrible ignorance happens power frequently than we would like to admit, if not always on such horrible scales.

Take the movies stars. Popular, rich, powerful, sexy, hot, beautiful... Don't we all want their lives? We stare at them, wanting a nose like that, hair like this, and that body. We want their money, their power, their success. But we don't see the horror. The anorexia, the broken families, the stress, the wildness. How many of those people have a marriage that can last? Kids born into a proper home? A sense of self strong enough to even make a proper relationship? If such things were common, all the gossip magazines you see in line at the grocery store would go out of business. Of course there must be exception. But Britney Spears the good girl once, and look at her now.

"The Book" reveals the most dangerous side of human nature, which is not evilness but ignorance. It is not coincidence that the man put his life in the book or that only the old bookbinder that can recognize its true nature. Far too often, we forget to ask questions or look closely as we life our lives. It may just be arrogance or pettiness or a grudge that we bind our lives in, never seeing its there, never how is has shaped our lives. The old know what to look for, but we rarely ask their advice. Not anyone could tell the man his book was bound in human skin; it had to be a bookbinder. In our day, who is this bookbinder? Who has the experience and expertise to tell us the truth? Who could possibly be that omniscient?

For me, there is an answer. For you, the answer might be different. But we much each find an answer, or risk binding our lives in something as horrible as human skin.


  1. Very nice insight. Thorough and thoughtful blog post! :)

  2. Very helpful and insightful! Thank you!