Birds sat on tables poised at every angle
their feathers clouded with motes of dust,
preening their colour under clouds that puffed
from creased bindings; and in a single
volume they complete a year’s migration
to make their nest on the second floor
of a London house.
Or now browse, with eye to your own
distant journey, Murrays and Baedekers, arranged
in steady caravans across an unnamed desert;
a line of vermillion carrying silks and spices
into drawing rooms
and solitary studies.
Photographs, drawings, maps precise
and imprecise; heaped up impossibilities.
Here, the the unlikely atlas, whose blank spaces
are worked over with compass, plotting line
and pencil, peopled with unencountered cities,
a river whose source still moves in darkness,
a mountain where storm-gods sat.
Perhaps it is an uncountable number,
acres upon acres of books in rows
like golden wheat. In fact,
here is one shelf holding
a small number, only ten or twenty,
their scent of dust and faded ink
so full of worlds that to name them
is as trying to read a map
disintegrating in your hands
of the full four corners –
yet here you find
your own name:
some foxing on the final paper,
a footnote in a book.
Written by D. Syme-Taylor for Shapero Rare Books. March 2017