Odes to Bookshops

Ode to Shakespeare and Co.

 

The crests of living erect a temple;

Like Bolivar’s conquests or the Credo in Unum Deum.

Their silent latitudes leave behind no fair-weathered construction

Only a sweetness that fills the air like an undiscovered river.

Only on the rarest, most gilded occasions,

Does life offer us a temple both fleshed and ethereal;

A Babel of literature, books like the Terracotta Army,

Beds with bugs that bit the Beats, a Left Bank saddled

With the cavalry of memory, mounted procession;

Joyce’s eye-glasses, Hemingway’s embrace, Sylvia, O Sylvia,

Her name like some restored Elgin marbles.

Here we pray, here we hope, here we dine, drink,

Dream – here we must pilgrimage, all,

Never sobre, never penitent or chaste;

But exuberant like the feasts of our fathers

But exuberant like fireworks that need no faith.

 

Ode to Acqua Alta

 

We have lost the war on cliché

In the hand-in-hand canals of Venice;

As waters rise so motivation sinks;

 

From our vantage points we have all seen

The carnivals shimmer amidst the marble.

 

Sometimes it fills us with sorrow

Like the eye of a lost lover in the palm of our hands.

 

But we are the republicans hoisting aloft the imagination;

Ennui is not a sadness we should permit ourselves.

 

Look in the high waters,

Alone, married, entranced,

And you will find – for all of us –

The shop where love will storm you suddenly

As you step lightly into that glorious chaos.

 

A car-boot sale on the back of a gondola;

Is this what you were so willing to throw away?

 

As chefs and Epicureans laud the Locanda Montin

So you should raise the dawn to the threshold of that literary Parnassus!

 

 

Ode to Livraria Lello

 

Ecstasy. Do you know its skin? Do you know it exists?

Abandon the moths, forsake the lily, the world still thinks

You are a blind, bat-gutted librarian living like a hermit

Whose world evolves expands and quickens in spite of him.

Wander, lust after the never-still horizon and know this ecstasy;

Like a cancer meeting its twin – how else can I say it?

One day you will find the Livraria, after an afternoon

Of flagging port in Oporto’s migratory streets;

There, in the contemptible, Gothic darkness of the Livraria,

Beneath the stairs like a beating ribcage, amidst the golden stalls,

Where books are like the devout at mass, looked down upon

By bronze statues as profound as night, when you feel that

The wonders of Bach’s symposiums, Caravaggio’s murderous perfection,

Handel’s shark-infested Creation and everything else faith can inspire;

You will know that the Livraria can inspire just as laudably.

Can, and should, and for you, for us: it must.

 

 

Ode to Desperate Literature

 

Years, days, months and weeks,

May pass, before you know,

The corrida of the written arts;

In Las Ventas all life bleeds,

The sand grows rusty and tanned,

Ribs gored, stretchers stretched,

An abattoir sings the blues.

But in the Calle Campomanes,

A corrida of renewal awaits like a Mediterranean;

Ah, a closed sea so pregnant with civilization!

Your hands and eyes will float outside you,

You are a ghost in the arena, die and live, and dream.

 

It is beautiful to love

What we alone can love.

 

The world is fuller when we love it as only we can,

Like a night spent with a star-crossed Caliban

Who thinks you’re his long-lost second half.

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