A Librarian of Alexandria


Barry Goldensohn

She has the manuscripts of Sappho in her hand, 
the personal body, not a scribe’s work 
but shining with her mark, Sappho’s, actual. 
She seals this papyrus in its own urn. 

This is before Actium. She knows 
the line of fire of the Roman mind, 
learned in her body’s long analysis. 

Homer’s two books, Moses’ five, 
their own hand, blotted and corrected, 
Aeschylus and Sophocles, not one 
play lost, and more Euripides 
on the stupidity of Gods, and many voices 
wholly lost to us whom the grammarians 
did not quote, nor the invaders preserve 
as mementoes of the Greek defeat. 

She has buried them deep in her own earth: 
the Psalms for preservation and Solomon’s song. 
She sways above them.

The books of the soul are dreaming underground 
at their true depth, waiting to be found. 
She has worked long at this, will defy 
fire, time as fire, the fire in the mind, 
using an Egyptian art. She has saved 
all of Heraclitus, to mock him; 
Aristophanes to make us sane; 
of Archilochos the whole warm body. 

In her white dress she is the one steady light 
in the abandoned mine among the smoking lamps. 
She preserves last 
those that bear the real taste to the mouth 
of love of tragedy—
                       kneels as she buries them—

with her face lowered in the golden tent of hair 
that brushes the floor in a circle around her, she smells 
her own spiced oils (that aromatic body 
knows how the satyr plays) 
                        —all the Satyr Plays.