Dewey took Manila
and soon after invented the decimal system
that keeps libraries from collapsing even unto this day.
A lot of mothers immediately started naming their male offspring “Dewey,”
which made him queasy. He was already having second thoughts about imperialism.
In his dreams he saw library books with milky numbers
on their spines floating in Manila Bay.
Soon even words like “vanilla” and “mantilla” would cause him to vomit.
The sight of a manila envelope precipitated him
into his study, where all day, with the blinds drawn,
he would press fingers against temples, muttering “What have I done?”
all the while. Then, gradually, he began feeling a bit better.
The world hadn’t ended. He’d go for walks in his old neighborhood,
marveling at the changes there, or at the lack of them. “If one is
to go down in history, it is better to do so for two things
rather than one,” he would stammer, none too meaningfully.
One day his wife took him aside
in her boudoir, pulling the black lace mantilla from her head
and across her bare breasts until his head was entangled in it.
“Honey, what am I supposed to say?” “Say nothing, you big boob
Just be glad you got away with it and are famous.” Speaking of
boobs…” “Now you’re getting the idea. Go file those books
on those shelves over there. Come back only when you’re finished.”
To this day schoolchildren wonder about his latter career
as a happy pedant, always nice with children, thoughtful
toward their parents. He wore a gray ceramic suit
walking his dog, a “bouledogue,” he would point out.
People would peer at him from behind shutters, watchfully,
hoping no new calamities would break out, or indeed
that nothing more would happen, ever, that history had ended.
Yet it hadn’t, as the admiral himself
would have been the first to acknowledge.