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A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 1 2010 7:07 AM


Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Campbell McGrath  read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

Books live in the mind like honey inside a beehive,
that ambrosial archive, each volume sealed in craft-made paper,
nutritive cells, stamen-fragrant, snug as apothecary jars.

Like fossilized trilobites, or skulls in a torch-lit catacomb
beneath an ancient city, Byzantium or Ecbatana,
or Paris at the end of April when venders set their folding tables
filled with lily of the valley beside every Métro entrance,


and the women, coming home from work or market,
scented already with the fugitive perfume of muguets,
carry hand-held bouquets like pale tapers
through the radiant, rain-washed streets at sunset.

And then it is night, half the world ruled by dreams
from which arise narrative forms—riddles, fables, myths—
as mist lifts from mountain valleys in autumn,
as steam belches from fumaroles in benthic trenches

to whose sulfuric cones strange life-forms cling,
chrome-green crabs and eyeless shrimp, soft-legged starfish
sung to sleep by that curious cousin of the hippopotamus,

the whale, who, having first evolved from ocean to land
in the ever-eventful Cretaceous, thought better of it,
returning, after millions of years, to scholarly contemplation
in the mesomorphic, metaphysical library of the sea.