Friday, 31 October 2008

The Book of Life

Another panegyric to the academic life!

The book of life

I searched through the card catalogue
under book and under life
pored over microfiches
tried every category of computerised search
and scrutinised the list of periodicals

Then the hard work started.
Filling in requests for books stacked underground
scanning the open shelves systematically
checking to see if what was between the covers of each book
was really what was written on the spine

I took copious coffee breaks
tea breaks, sausage sandwich breaks
breaks to perform various bodily functions
and even found a corner of the west wing
to bed down in at night

My personal life suffered
my clothes began to smell bad
my bills went unpaid
the phone was cut off, then the gas, the trickery, the water.
It was worth it, though, in the end.

It came to me in a vision
on the twenty ninth day
of the second month
of the twelfth year of my search.

It was one of those visions
that blind you on the spot (the spot
being in the middle of the tenth of twenty eight racks
nine feet high by sixty seven long
on the third floor of six on the south front)

I still had a long way to go; I hadn't
been vouchsafed the book, just the location code.
I scrambled to the desk as best I could
wrote the code down on one of the forms
(this was no problem, by now I could do it blindfold)

then, with trembling hands
passed it to the aged clerk saying
as I did so, I think it may have been misfiled.
He took it, though, with fingers like dried leaves
and with a voice like dried leaves

told me to return an hour later.
He was waiting for me. He took me aside.
He whispered in my ear
the book of life is out on loan
I'm terribly sorry

I could see he knew it meant a lot to me.
He said, We'll put out a recall on it.
We'll get it back. He patted me on the back.
I could see he felt sorry for me
he was just being a good old boy

But they didn't get it back
and after that my hearing went.
It took me a while to learn to read Braille
and even longer to write it
but in the end I put in a request

I want to speak to the librarian.
The clerk took me aside
and tapped a message in Morse code on my palm.
The librarian is out to lunch. Permanently.

I played my trump card
(there's no point embarking on a search like this
without one). At last
the sacred book of life was in my hands
the rest would come by grace

I took it to the library clerk, rejoicing
he led me personally to the lunching librarian
we turned the pages reverently
and turning into angels
the clerk and the librarian restored my sight

a heavenly choir filled my ears
my aged bones were charged with youthful vigour
and I read (the text was cunningly disguised
as a telephone directory for Stevenage)
my name was not listed

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