The Monastery

for my mother on her birthday

It might be many things; good, bad, indifferent. On the one side, Shangri-La. On the other, Saint Mary-in-the-Woods. Between them, what? The library, the endless library. The patient, hopeless scritch-scratch of the scriptorium, monks dissolute and rowdy with their fingers in the dikes of illiteracy. A canticle for many people — Leibowitz no less than others.

Because it is not enough to collect knowledge. The monks of the library are more than librarians, and less: more, because their efforts are greater; less, because their libraries are smaller, their readers (of necessity) fewer.

Think of those monks! Think of smutty illustrations wedged into elaborate capitals, words copied at rote without comprehension (yes! for who could read?) endless glosses on a rigorous and defined canon. Thus, hopeful; each gain as lightweight as parchment, as massy as tomes.

And in despair? In despair, they blunt their pens and shatter their inkwells. They build dungeons, hoard wealth. In their corruption they stretch leathery wings against the sky, dig adamant claws into the befouled treasure of nations, become, not the canny bootleggers of culture but hoarders, hipsters, gatekeepers of a gate that swings one way only.