You know what I am: the slight stench of mould hidden in long-forgotten books, covered up by the deodorant of sunburnt pages and the memory of rain, doorways to other places flickering in your periphery, thoughts chasing each other; ideas rustling, life on the tip of your tongue, an ebb and flow of pulses and minds — you suck it in so you’re filled with it, with everything I am.
Don’t lie. I know a Reader when I see one. You’re the ones who linger over embossed covers, trace the tanned edges of crisp pages with the tips of your fingers, the tip of your mind. It excites you to be in one realm, on the verge of so many others. You all have that look about you: as if the fantasy is this reality, and not the dreamscapes you so longingly look at. I can spot a Reader with my eyes shut.
Take her, for instance.
Her gaze caresses ripening tomes hanging heavy,
wondering which to pick, wandering among
the orchard-shelves. She dances in shattered shade
beneath the trees. Tangy juice and succulent
flesh glisten in the light of a thousand worlds.
Swilling lust-red wine is the same as savouring a
lettered-spine; she deliberates, knowing once she
starts-there’s-no-stopping, because she’s an
alcoholic, her cellar the aisle she paces.
She prises one from the throng and,
turning to the first page, takes a sip.
The words sit — biting — on her tongue,
sharp as cabernet.
Oysters slice careless flesh:
opening it, fingers press along a razorblade
sharp as horizon’s edge, a paper cut soul-deep.
And then there are the Speakers, the ones who love the visceral vibrations of voices. Not to say they dislike the dance of the written word, making patterns in their pupils, but it's clear what their preference is.
“Hey, what if Holden Caulfield
with Anna Karenina,
or Hermione Granger?
Would they love him back?
What about Lyra Silvertongue and
Mr. Rochester? Carroll’s Alice and
Christopher Robin? Or Billy Pilgrim
and Mary Poppins? No, you’re right:
Holden Caulfield isn’t the type to fall
in love, nor is Christopher; and
while Pilgrim travels in time
and Poppins bends space in a bag,
I don’t think they’d make such a good
couple after all. Besides, Lyra’s not fit for
anyone but Will, Rochester anyone
but Jane (even if she does whine a lot).”
“What about Alice?”
“You’re forgetting her story is all about
its trials and confusions and insanity,
its ridiculousness and its magic and its passion:
how is Alice an allegory for anything but love?”
The Listener — every Speaker’s counterpart — is content to fade into the orchestra of life. There’s a musicality to their world, a melody in the thrum of traffic or the wind’s strings moving trees like puppets, a beat in the sizzle of rain or echoing footsteps.
He waits in the car outside,
while she’s inside with the books,
content to be her second love.
There are worse things to love, surely?
He taps the wheel, letting songs sung
by the stereo score his literary soundtrack:
‘Jesse’s Girl’ is his Great Gatsby,
‘Hungry as the Wolf’ his Call of the Wild,
‘Fast Car’ Kerouac,
‘Original Sin’ his Mockingbird and
a dozen songs High Fidelity.
He sees her walking outside,
while he’s inside, floating high.
Yet, sound isn’t always beautiful. It can be chaotic and breathless, achingly and torturously unending. It often is.
The photocopier screams,
“Low-ink — cardiac arrest,”
and the library is a hospital
with people who think
it’s an emergency, but
their job is to care, and as they
rush and fret and rush,
covers creasing while
someone yells, “Code Austen!” and
that girl who’s always in that aisle
leaps into action, thumb
between the pages, helpful smile
on her clock face shifting
all the while, and the sound of students’
pens scribbling on paper distracts
them like a drug, Imagination,
but by the time they rid the urge,
it’s closing time, and silence reigns:
the cliché restored.
You don’t believe me? Draw near. Nearer. Turn your ear to me, and let me whisper to your curiosity, make dreams leap like sparks thrown from fire into inky darkness. Listen to the creaking of my shelves, these arthritic joints. There’s a tale in them. Hear the poetry hidden in the prose of everyday. You can’t? Come closer, tilt your head, listen…