Poetry: John Thieme

John Thieme
In the Library (6 June 2023)

Today, when I go into my library,
it seems an unknown insect species 
has attacked my copy of the Ramayana
on the wooden bottom shelf where,
nestled with the Mahabharata,
Panchatantra and the words of Buddha, 
it has remained untouched for several years.
Today a hundred chewed forensic fragments 
bear witness to the mock-heroic nibblings of the small.

To shred such ancient wisdom in this fashion
must have been the work of countless hours.
I reprimand myself for my neglect,
for leaving treasured volumes on their own so long,
and vow to write an elegy for epic, 
but first I need to answer several questions.
Why this, and not the Mahabharata?
Has Ravana, incarnate and reheaded, 
despatched this parasitic troop
to destroy my volume’s version of his fate?
Why here? I know books battle insects in the tropics
where, malicious rumour has it, 
bugs abhor the printed word,
but could silverfish be here in once-cool Albion, 
borne north on warming Trojan winds,
to wreak revenge in former colonizers’ climes? 

Today a king is crowned with rituals,
which, they say, date back a thousand years.
Living only in the mindless moments,
when it was gnawing legend to its death, 
the small invading army in my library
is surely unaware of all such history,
but can I know what forces drove its actions?
I look again and see some little droppings.
Could this be English mousework, after all?


Blue is the waking whispering of morning,
heard by the primogeniture of youth. 

Blue is the ploughman’s lunch of pilgrims, 
tasted at stopping points in life’s midway.

Blue is the waning light of evening,
seen when the paraplegic takes the lift upstairs.

Blue is the cobalt dark of midnight,
when the hirsute nostrils smell no more.

Blue is felt by all the senses,
yet blue eludes the custody of words.


I have divorced myself from daily duties,
to watch a smart procedural on screen.
I inter myself within its sealed-off comforts,
suspend my life in its suspense and 
the release it offers from life’s muddled maze.  
A murder has been perpetrated;
the community of suspects is select and small;
clues and red herrings follow tight conventions, 
promising this finite puzzle will be solved.
The detective is post-Chandler, flawed and tarnished,
a rumpled man who strives to find a balance 
between the tangles of his over-active love-life 
and devotion to the knotted case in hand.
I travel with this man for several hours,
follow all his leads, both real and false.
The suspects fall away;
a final twist reveals the villain
and Order can be reaffirmed once more.

The credits roll. Escapism is over.
I am back inside the humdrum danglings of my days
my ditherings, my deferrals,
my procrastinations.
I find no evidence to shape into a pattern.
In fact, I doubt that any clues exist.
Here there may be a billion, or a trillion, suspects,
but crimes lack solutions in this contingent world.

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