In the library

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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.

Charlies Simic, 2008
Sculpture by Susana Coderch

Smooth

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‘It’s cold.’

‘No, not cold, it’s just me, I’m always cold.’ He smiled sideways. This young man, springy and bouncy with glasses that were always about to fall off, was in my shop,  looking for any book that is really good.

He swayed from side to side, sighs, smiles. He said he could spend a long time here. He holds a book and stares down at the cover. Doesn’t move. Stares at the title, turns it over and stares at the back. Says, yes.

Then he heard the saxophone.

Customers always take some time to hear the music. The music drops, clean and delicate, down on top of them from a speaker above the Wordsworth classics. Some people stare up at it in amazement. How did that get there? Today, it’s saxophone, and he heard it. Accepted it, as an extended part of the books. A continuing of Pinocchio. An addition to agony, or Primo Levi. An impossible, possible blend of Edward Abbey and Margaret Atwood.

He leaned into the curve of it, eyes closed, moving his ears up and down the shining notes. He said, smooth. He said, Smooth, with a capital S.

He said, ‘I haven’t had lunch yet. I haven’t even had breakfast yet.’

So he left, to get some food. He had red hair.

 

Sculpture by Adam Binder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Frost

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The rain to the wind said, 

You push and I’ll pelt.

They so smote the garden bed 

That the flowers actually knelt, 

And lay lodged  – though not dead.

I know how the flowers felt. 

Lodged by Robert Frost

 

Sculpture “Rain” by Nazar Bilyk

Ebb and Flow

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There are two children in the playground here.
Two children on a metal whirler with bars for hands and bars for feet and around they go. A girl and a boy, he’s smaller. But with a hoop and a swoop that child was down and it was a beautiful down.
There he lay, stretched out soft as cotton across the bark chips.
His sister kept spinning. And singing. She swirled her spinney hair in patterns, first one way, then the other and her brother watched. Then he stood up and said, let me. She said, it’s my moon.
She swirled three more times for authority, then another and another and he waited round and round patiently round.
Then she stopped and allowed him on. They whirled together, locked eyes, orbits on, leaning back, caught in roundy rings and sibling hoopy blur.

Sculpture ‘Ebb and Flow’ by Alison Bell

Little Bird

Rex Homan sculpture

There’s a little boy come into the shop with his sister, they are allowed in by themselves while their mother waits outside with their dog and all the shopping.

The little boy holds a cork with two blue straws taped to it, it has tinsel on one end and green paper on the other and he cradles it, enchanted by it, lives with it. While his sister reads he flies his bird gently along the shelves and up and over the stacks, greeting the window with a glass kiss, they both look through the window, wondering about the day, inquiring into the magic.
But then one of the plastic wings drops and falls away and he kneels down, cupping the bird, soothing its cork heart, he tenderly attaches the wing again, under the same worn tape where it holds quite well. He sees that I am watching and he holds up the bird, shows me that all is ok.

His sister is finished, she has chosen her book, she says: come on…and then all three of them are slowly leaving and flying home.

Sculpture by Rex Homan

Reading, Standing Up

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The mother and son have edged into the shop together, shoulder to shoulder, she to look at art books, he to read Sea Quest right next to her; he is showing her its qualities, casting for ownership. They read on silently together, it is warm in that room, cold outside. A younger sister comes quickly through the door, she has headphones in and she joins the group, leaning her head into a shelf, rests there, eyes closed and says nothing at all.

Then the father joins them, and he lines up too, curiously, shoulder to shoulder. He has a book that is very funny, but I can’t see what it is. Every time he exclaims, his family glance across, frowning. Suddenly,  the grandmother is here. She is looking for Agatha Christie and her family look at her kindly. Her son shows her a very funny thing in his book and she glances down at the page, frowning.

Suddenly they all lean in together to examine each other’s books and they all begin to talk about Watership Down, a book which none of them are holding.  There is something they can’t agree on, the grandmother is furious with her adult son, who is trying to find his phone. They can no longer stay in the corner of a bookshop, near art and photography, they all look through the window at freedom, which they feel they have abruptly lost.

They leave with great courtesy, splintering off at the doorway, thanking me, looking sideways at each other and diving for freedom.

Sculpture by Max Leiva

Rain

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Albert told me that he has been unwell. “I’ve been unwell, you know, confined to barracks! I catalogued all my books… well, two shelves anyway. Spanish Literature and the Mystics to the left and Latin and Early Church to the right. Travelogues on the bottom.” He bought another George Borrow; he said it already had a place on the shelf waiting. He loses his gloves in the shop and when he stacks his book to leave, he has picked up somebody else’s purchases. He says it is his own fault because all he can think about these days are the Spanish writers.

A couple were walking along the shelves, talking about the opera. She kept saying: yes, yes… but this one here…

It is very quiet. A bus load of visitors across the road are all looking at the sky, and then they one by one climb back onto the bus. Except for one lady who is arguing with the bus driver.

David told me about Clive James, Barbara Hanrahan, Alan Moorhead, Jerome K. Jerome, Jean Rhys and Patrick White and then he purchased another biography of Anais Nin that I wanted for myself. I look at him reprovingly and he says: well, it’s too late now.

And a couple buying mysteries tell me that the weather just will not brighten up.

It is raining. Still the lady across the road argues with the bus driver who is hunched against both her and the rain.

There are some young people kneeling in front of the self-help books. They have the Bhagavad Gita and Jonathon Livingston Seagull on the floor side by side and they are talking to each other about them in low voices. They have left their rucksacks by the door of the shop and another customer, a regular gentleman who only reads political biographies tells me that the bags people carry around these days are very odd. He is cheerful because he has found a copy of Alistair Cooke’s America and he thinks that now he will branch out. The young people are all standing up now and motionless, gazing into books with open mouths, the rucksacks are forgotten. I ask them later where they have travelled from and they tell me they are from Crafers.

I am asked for Catcher in the Rye, The Hobbit and anything by Garth Nix. I am told cheerfully that rainy hours are for reading.

When I go next door to the bakery it is full of ambulance officers, all in uniform and all eating furiously as they stare out at the day.

Back in the front room, visitors are all staring silently at the shelves. A boy, about 14 says YESSS and then he is holding a Patrick Rothfuss book (The Wise Man’s Fear) in front of his sister; she shrugs and refuses to look at the book.

I go back to the counter and I can continue to read a short story that I like called The Day Begins by Morris Lurie and I am reading it twice and then again because it is fabulous, although I am not sure why. I don’t read short stories but now I do.

There is a man here from Singapore. He he has found Hemmingway, Thoreau, Pearl S. Buck and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He tells me his home is in Singapore where he is a chemist and in Singapore people must really concentrate to be still and take a breath. And so he will put these books on his shelf and look at them. He has no time to read. In Singapore there is NO TIME TO READ. But this literature puts the humanity back in him. Daily life takes it out and these books can put it back in. Literature shows that we are all the same and there is no single answer. Sometimes there is not even the time to just look at things. That he is staring at things but not looking at them. He told me he is caught in work, caught in family, caught in trying to pay the bills and caught in aging parents and not quite knowing what to do.

In my car park (in the rain) when I am going home, there is a magpie on the galvanised iron fence and it sings a few small notes, it does not mind the rain.

Sculpture “Rain” by Ukrainian artist Nazar Bilyk

“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” Anaïs Nin

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Outside the shop it is grey and raining and warm and everyone who comes in tells me that the weather is doing strange things lately.

Inside the shop I can only think about Anais Nin because I am very slowly reading her journals. She is dead now. And her writing, as someone said to me, is brilliant and brave.

She wrote what she really thought. This is a terrifying concept. Because, as she said:

“When one is pretending, the entire body revolts.”

There is thinking enough for weeks and weeks in this small sentence.

Sculpture by Ken Martin