I’ve always loved libraries. Perhaps we need more poems about libraries in the world. Here is one by Charles Simic. In the library, he shows us a specific book as well as what he ‘discovered.” The poem originally appeared in his collection The Book of Gods and Devils.
IN THE LIBRARY
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.
In 1997, while teaching at a conference, I encouraged writers to imagine themselves writing a “postcard” from an unlikely place. In fact, I gave them index cards, approximately the size of a postcard, and we all wrote postcard poems. Below is the poem I wrote, having imagined myself writing from the center of a library. The poem later appeared in the journal Maize.
FROM THE CENTER OF THE LIBRARY
There are no books here, no crisp pages
ancient-smelling, fingertip swirl-stained.
That I have lucked onto here, this place,
this narrowed aim—which is what words are,
pointed toward but never arriving—that I have
stood here, knowing imprecisely this is center
beneath my feet, is mystery, wealthy with air.
And I can breathe here. My lungs, could I, or you,
see them, are immaculate, absent of toil.
Receiving inward and giving back are no longer
different gestures, but the same, points in a circle,
continual, replenishing, returned upon return.
Inside each breath there are beginnings, millions
upon millions, stumbling after another
to open the body’s intricate concerts.
A moment lasts only long enough
never to have the chance to be remembered.
This, dear friends, negotiators, readers, is the center.
Out from here swell stacks and stacks of failed attempts.
Write your own poem set in a library. What twist or angle can you bring to our imagining of this familiar place? If it helps, imagine that you are writing a postcard from the library. Grab an index card (or a small scrap of paper) and write what needs to be said to those who need to hear the words.