Burning the Library

by Amy Scattergood on September 6, 2009

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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.


(photo: A satellite view of the Station fire north of Pasadena taken by NASA’s Terra Satellite)


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