You learned all that from a book? she said.
And do you have a copy of that book,
Concealed somewhere about your person?
Did you then? A book or tablets of stone,
The additional reading material
That Godhead sometimes provides prophets?
Do I not look like a book reader?
Once I had hands and two good eyes.
You mock me, Marguerite. Only later,
In Nineveh, would I read the djinn book.
By that time I had firsthand encounters
To draw on and compare with book knowledge.
But where did you come by that book, parrot?
From Nineveh's famed Lending Library.
And God only knows where the book has gone.
Most likely it sits under landfill,
Its pages wrinkled and soaked in filth soup.
Lucky for me, with all I've overlooked,
With all the sins for which I must atone,
I won't have to pay overdue fines.
And why is that, parrot? Marguerite inquired.
I've not yet found occasion, I said,
To mention one of this world's wonders,
Nineveh's famous Lending Library,
Where according to some a copy is kept
Of any text ever deemed worthwhile.
Copies were even kept of worthless texts
In those early days before cutbacks,
Before literary criticism,
And before an acrimonious dispute
With unionized scribes made its impact.
When time came to reduce collection size
Three schools of thought contended on method.
The first of these proclaimed that only works
By or about Homer need be preserved,
Everything else was ephemeral crap.
The next school, devotees of some cult
That met in glades to perform their mystery,
Worship of an alcoholic beverage,
Argued only their secret texts be kept,
Texts so highly secret and so sacred
Even to repeat the titles is a crime,
Greatly shrinking card catalogue size.
But the third school of thought at last prevailed,
The sect that thinks worth is recondite,
A virtue beyond any human reach.
Any sense you understand is hollow;
To eat of any fruit marks it rotted,
To gaze on earth's beauty spots it with pox.
Your touch, oh foul knowledge, is pure murrain,
For mystery dispelled is our Lord betrayed.
I know of that sect, said Marguerite.
You wonder how they get around the town,
Let alone get elected onto boards
That supervise our libraries and schools.
Some even try to close public parks,
Make them edens, ecologic preserves,
In which endangered weeds drive down roots
And spread runciated leaves through grass,
In which perverts can lurk undetected,
Waiting for some errant jogger to jump.
This library invites all its patrons,
Wealthy or impoverished, freeborn or slave,
To bear off whatever books they please
Without any obligation imposed
To ever bring the worthless things back,
Since the very fact they wish to read them
Is proof sufficient how worthless they are.
These works will skid quickly to oblivion
On modern memory's non-stick surface.
All bestsellers and popular fiction,
Sports and do-it-yourself, get rich quick,
Inspiration and film star exposes
Will run, they claimed, like the shit through a goose.
The more charming and accessible a work,
The more likely it is to lack value.
And it's in fashion's very nature that,
With time, every text becomes worthless,
Whereupon some reader will borrow it
And take it home to read and leave it there,
Part of a personal stockpile of pulp.
Meanwhile Library shelves garner up
Masterpieces both ancient and modern,
Obscure and allusive, profound and unread.
Eventually, of course, time will conquer:
Barbarians will happen along with fire
Set all paper-packed buildings alight,
And they will burn, fuelled by all those classics,
All the back issues of Vanity Fair,
Of Field and Stream, of Sky and Telescope.
Liber Jonae Contents