‘Safe and unread under hatches’
The shelves are eating the books –
said the librarian,
who is trained in these things.
Static shelving, grained and gracious oak
seeming set for all time,
is in fact in flux:
dead vegetable matter, breaking down,
releasing gases, to make the old books
more brittle still, till they crumble
like leaves on the forest floor.
They would be far safer –
she said –
in steel stacks.
Meanwhile, I stand
as though in an enchanted wood,
breathing the books’ autumnal fragrance:
having proof now
that, through all its perils,
this library is alive.
Packing up the library
To lose one library
is a misfortune; to lose two
looks like carelessness.
So, before the Abbey is rewired,
the books are on the move –
going into the ark two by two:
into the archive boxes.
Lying down meekly –
the lion with the lamb,
polemic with peace studies,
poetry with politics,
Celtic studies with eschatology;
gathered in from the open shelves
where saint and sinner
were free to browse.
Now safe and unread under hatches
while the rain falls on a wordless world
till the dove sounds the all-clear.
Jan Sutch Pickard
Jan Sutch Pickard is a member of the Iona Community. She was vice-president of the Methodist Conference from 1996 to 1997, and on the island of Iona was Deputy Warden and Warden of Iona Abbey for several years until 2004.