22. The silence of books

For the silence of books. I am sitting at a desk atop two million volumes. A mountain of knowledge I could not climb, that no one could climb in a dozen lives. (I took the elevator.) Two million volumes bound in faded hues, standing silent and straight-spined between their assigned companions, volunteering nothing. Numbered, shelved, neatly stacked and nearly unread. A comfortable ordering of knowledge unknown. I could choose one at random, let it open where it may, let my eye fall on a sentence: Fifi drew off and surveyed her work sympathetically yet professionally.1 Who is Fifi? Who knows? A scrap of paper marks the thirty-seventh page; the last page bears a penciled list of vocabulary words (eulogies, decadent, pristine, corollary) and a quick sum. But the date sheet is blank. I return the book to its place and myself to my desk. Through a window, far below, the sun finds sharply angled paths where people walk, hands in their pockets, heads in their thoughts, alone. Volunteering nothing.

  1. Henry Sydnor Harrison, Queed: A Novel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911).