Light drifts across the ceiling as if we are under water —whoever would approach you you changed the comer You holding on to the front of my coat with both hands, the last time I saw you —I felt your death coming close —the change in your red lips You gave me your hand. You pulled me out of the ground.
Copyright © 2018 by Jean Valentine. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 18, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
for Octavio There's a book called "A Dictionary of Angels." No one has opened it in fifty years, I know, because when I did, The covers creaked, the pages Crumbled. There I discovered The angels were once as plentiful As species of flies. The sky at dusk Used to be thick with them. You had to wave both arms Just to keep them away. Now the sun is shining Through the tall windows. The library is a quiet place. Angels and gods huddled In dark unopened books. The great secret lies On some shelf Miss Jones Passes every day on her rounds. She's very tall, so she keeps Her head tipped as if listening. The books are whispering. I hear nothing, but she does.
From Sixty Poem by Charles Simic. Copyright © 2008 by Charles Simic. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Trade Publishers. All rights reserved.
The library is dangerous—
Don’t go in. If you do
You know what will happen.
It’s like a pet store or a bakery—
Every single time you’ll come out of there
Holding something in your arms.
Those novels with their big eyes.
And those no-nonsense, all muscle
Greyhounds and Dobermans,
All non-fiction and business,
Cuddly when they’re young,
But then the first page is turned.
The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge,
The aroma of coffee being made
In all those books, something for everyone,
The deli offerings of civilization itself.
The library is the book of books,
Its concrete and wood and glass covers
Keeping within them the very big,
Very long story of everything.
The library is dangerous, full
Of answers. If you go inside,
You may not come out
The same person who went in.
Copyright © 2017 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the author.
Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries,
For that which was lacking among you all, yet needed most, I bring;
A book I have made for your dear sake, O soldiers,
And for you, O soul of man, and you, love of comrades;
The words of my book nothing, the life of it everything;
A book separate, not link’d with the rest, nor felt by the intellect;
But you will feel every word, O Libertad! arm’d Libertad!
It shall pass by the intellect to swim the sea, the air,
With joy with you, O soul of man.
This poem is in the public domain.
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We felt nostalgic for libraries, even though we were sitting in a library. We looked around the library lined with books and thought of other libraries we had sat in lined with books and then of all the libraries we would never sit in lined with books, some of which contained scenes set in libraries. * We felt nostalgic for post offices, even though we were standing in a post office. We studied the rows of stamps under glass and thought about how their tiny castles, poets, cars, and flowers would soon be sent off to all cardinal points. We rarely got paper letters anymore, so our visits to the post office were formal, pro forma. * We felt nostalgic for city parks, even though we were walking through a city park, in a city full of city parks in a country full of cities full of city parks, with their green benches, bedraggled bushes, and shabby pansies, cut into the city. (Were the city parks bits of nature showing through cutouts in the concrete, or was the concrete showing through cutouts in nature?) * We sat in a café drinking too much coffee and checking our feeds, wondering why we were more anxious about the future than anxiously awaiting it. Was the future showing through cutouts in the present, or were bits of the present showing through cutouts in a future we already found ourselves in, arrived in our café chairs like fizzled jetpacks? The café was in a former apothecary lined with dark wood shelves and glowing white porcelain jars labeled in gilded Latin, which for many years had sat empty. Had a person with an illness coming to fetch her weekly dose of meds from one of the jars once said to the city surrounding the shop, which was no longer this city, Stay, thou art so fair? Weren’t these the words that had sealed the bargainer’s doom? Sitting in our presumptive futures, must we let everything run through our hands—which were engineered to grab—into the past? In the library, in the post office, in the city park, in the café, in the apothecary... o give us the medicine, even if it is a pharmakon—which, as the pharmacist knows, either poisons or heals—just like nostalgia. Just like the ruins of nostalgia.
Copyright © 2020 by Donna Stonecipher. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 8, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
Not every day but most days that summer I went calmly and quietly and climbed to the sixth floor of the library and walked not fast and not slow but with purpose down the last row and reached almost without looking to the same place on the shelf and pulled out the large book and carried it to a chair that looks out toward the ridge, to a mountain that is there, whether it is or it isn’t, the mountain people love, maybe for this, love and die with all their love, trying, and I opened to the page where I left off before, and sometimes the library announced it was closing, sometimes I got hungry, sometimes it looked like rain, and I’d close the book and carry it again, with purpose, back to its exact place on the shelf, and I’d walk down the stairs and out of the building, and it was like I’d left it ticking.
Copyright © 2017 Jill Osier. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
From Collected Poems by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Where else in all America are we so symbolized As in this hall? White columns polished like glass, A dome and a dome, A balcony and a balcony, Stairs and the balustrades to them, Yellow marble and red slabs of it, All mounting, spearing, flying into color. Color round the dome and up to it, Color curving, kite-flying, to the second dome, Light, dropping, pitching down upon the color, Arrow-falling upon the glass-bright pillars, Mingled colors spinning into a shape of white pillars, Fusing, cooling, into balanced shafts of shrill and interthronging light. This is America, This vast, confused beauty, This staring, restless speed of loveliness, Mighty, overwhelming, crude, of all forms, Making grandeur out of profusion, Afraid of no incongruities, Sublime in its audacity, Bizarre breaker of moulds, Laughing with strength, Charging down on the past, Glorious and conquering, Destroyer, builder, Invincible pith and marrow of the world, An old world remaking, Whirling into the no-world of all-colored light.
An excerpt from "The Congressional Library" from What's O'Clock. Copyright © 1955 by Houghton Mifflin Company, Brinton P. Roberts and G. D'Andelot Belin, Esquire. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
This is my first memory: A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky wood floor A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply too short For me to sit in and read So my first book was always big In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided To the left side the card catalogue On the right newspapers draped over what looked like a quilt rack Magazines face out from the wall The welcoming smile of my librarian The anticipation in my heart All those books—another world—just waiting At my fingertips.
"My First Memory (of Librarians)" from Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni. Copyright © 2007 by Nikki Giovanni. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.