I have always imagined paradise will be kind of like a library. ~ Borges
Amy Cornell is a freelance writer in Bloomington, Indiana. Pre-covid, Amy co-led writing circles with incarcerated women at the Monroe County Corrections Center, and creative writing and memoir circles for Women Writing for a Change of Bloomington. Every April she participates in the National Poetry Writing Month Challenge of writing a poem a day for 30 days. These are some of those poems.
Welcome to the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey. Amy, what poems have you brought for us today?
The Library of Lost Books
No one really understood what a librarian did
the day she stepped forward to claim the job.
And no one really knew what she meant when
she said someone had to save the books for posterity
Someone, she said, needs to remember
how words were printed on paper and
paper was bound together to form
whole coherent ideas and stories.
Sometimes, she said, tales and stories
were printed next to pictures and tied
together between stiff boards and
people used to put them on shelves
and get this, carried them in bags,
and girls had a way of holding them
in stacks over their left arm as they
sashayed down the hallway in between
classes in high school. It's true!
Nevertheless, she said, it will be my
job to take care of them, put them
in specific order on the shelves (more on that later)
and on special occasions I’ll let people
take them down and turn the pages—
that is what we call all the papers
that are bound together—pages.
And then when people leave I will put
the books back on the shelves
in the right order. So the next time we
need them we can find them.
She asked for as big a building as we
could get her, preferably brick,
and she filled it with shelves.
Those are wooden boards nailed together
that helped her stack the books up high,
so she could fit many of them in one place.
And oh what a place! She built this castle, this
library, filled with these pages and stiff boards,
and it smelled like old things. Like the
back of your grandmothers hand and dust
under the piano and lace. And then, she sat
herself at the front of it all, at a big desk like
she said they did in the olden days and she would
put pencils (that’s a poem for a different day)
in the bun of hair on her head which she pulled
out when she wrote down words to help her
find your book.
So now we understand a bit better what
a librarian does. We understand about
words and ideas and shelves and the
importance of order. I think most
of us come to the library to see her.
She tells us to be quiet, and we watch
to see the dreamy look on her face as she
runs her fingers over the spines (that’s what
she calls them!) of the books and
chooses one for us. No one knows who
will take over for her when she’s gone.
Transferable Skills for Poets
Should your open position need lots of metaphors,
I am the right person for the job.
If you need someone who is inspired by
the break of spring, the cries of children,
or the taste of matzo ball soup, look no further.
I am constantly searching for the word,
the rhyme, the meter, the perfect allusion.
In fact, words and their usage fill my head
from the minute I wake up. If your position
requires a constant connection with the
language and the moment, where do I sign up?
And if you need someone to stare dreamily
into the stars or the clouds or their cold black
coffee and if you really need to put your finger
on what is possible and how to hope and fear
and love and ponder the things that make us
whole, please hire me. You won’t regret it.
Instructions for telling your left hand from your right
You picture yourself on the floor of Mrs. Vogel’s kindergarten classroom
picking at fibers from the red and white woven rug on which you all sit,
faces and bodies leaning into her bright star.
She asks, “Who can show me their left hand?”
And you raise your hand carefully, not fully understanding the question.
There on the carpet you learn:
how to face the chalkboard every time you want to remember;
every time you want to understand how to center yourself;
every time you search for true north.
The ring on your hand, the muscles in your arm, the callouses worn into your index finger
can’t help you more than this simple memory
taking you back every day of your life to that place on the rug
at the feet of the only true genius you ever knew.
It may very well be the last thing you ever think about.
You’ve been listening to the poetry of Amy Cornell on the Poets Weave. I’m Romayne Rubinas Dorsey.