The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu
What does a book that's been
silent for seven hundred years
say when you open it?
Does it mutter half-sentences
in crumbling dusty dialects?
Or do the words burst out
of the page inexplicably like
a spring rising out of desert sand?
Perhaps the books are more ordinary
and like their curators
firework-bereft and bald
Tracts political, historical,
astronomical, and all in verse
enlightening, undramatic, practical
their ancient authors
unencumbered by the West
How often has a book that's been
passed from generation to generation
been read out loud?
Enough trickling out perhaps
to stain shores more familiar now
A sufi tale or two in Andersen's
with clothing heavier for the Danish cold
The silvery glint of a medical
treatise in Crusoe's empty island
Which of these thousands of books
Which of these millions of pages
Soon to be gathered up by academic
hordes, by armies of vain collectors
will be left to the careless wayfarer
blind to the beacon of Shining Africa?
Perhaps a thin sheaf of love poems
Like the claws of a meaty beast
Cast off as offal, but still the shape
of those that still mark our flesh
as we stumble blindly in the desert
in the slow search for the Caravan