BURNING THE LIBRARY
Obedient to the Caliph’s orders
Amrou walked the length of Alexandria
in a wash of salt
and set about his sad task of destruction.
Book by book he unstacked the library
while the birds went mad overnight
and Amrou’s feet burned tracks of ash
on the holy ground. A thousand meteors fell
down around him as the ancient world
was fed in shovels to the bathhouse fires.
Bathed in tears, Amrou bore this light
like knowledge. He memorized
the flames and recited ruins of parchment
as the citizens of the city soaped and steamed by the heat
of Isidore of Seville and Ptolemy.
The skies above Alexandria flew
with volumes of ashes. Parchment
blew in armies through the streets
as the bathers sat in their four thousand baths
towelled in silt and charcoal.
For the rest of his life Amrou’s bedsheets burned
as he slept. His memory turned in fragments,
pages torn out or paragraphs singed
at the edges. There were huge gaps
and he found that he couldn’t remember whole years
that had happened. Vague images came to him, phrases–
Priam’s daughters–charioteers–girls’ voices–singing–
Amrou sat as his bed burned around him
and wept tears of ink and carbon.
Outside the palace the ashes sifted with the sand
and chasms of wind blew
through the empty scriptoriums.
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