Long ago I had a friend, an English professor, who as a child read every book in the one-room public library of her small town. That little town in the South, to its credit, appointed the child to be town librarian and gave her a budget for buying new books. One day — her birthday, as it happened — she had agreed to give a lecture for some rich donors to the college where she was teaching. Most of those people were supporters of the not-yet-disgraced Richard Nixon, who was about to be reelected president of the United States. It seemed an awful way to spend a birthday, but she gave it her best effort. I wrote Library Scene for her.
A man reads in a mosque in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, 2006.
© Steve McCurry/Magnum Photos
Under the ceiling of metal stamped like plaster
Under the ceiling fan, in the brown luster
Someone is reading, in the sleepy room
Alert, her damp cheek balanced on one palm,
With knuckles loosely holding back the pages
Or fingers waiting lightly at their edges.
Her eyes are like the eyes of someone attending
To a fragile work, familiar and demanding —
Some work of delicate surfaces and threads.
Someone is reading the way a rare child reads,
A kind of changeling reading for love of reading,
For love and for the course of something leading
Her child’s intelligent soul through its inflection:
A force, a kind of loving work or action.
Someone is reading in a deepening room
Where something happens, something that will come
To happen again, happening as many times
As she is reading in as many rooms.
What happens outside that calm like water braiding
Over green stones? The ones of little reading,
Or who never read for love, are many places.
They are in the house of power, and many houses
Reading as they do, doing what they do.
Or it happens that they come, at times, to you
Because you are somehow someone that they need:
They come to you and you tell them how you read. ■