Where Has All the Literacy Gone?

The library in Copley Square
has rethought itself as a tomb.
People enter but don’t emerge.
At dusk the interior lights 
don’t light, but the claw-shaped
lanterns by the bronze doors ignite
like torches in a dark procession.

You possess a peculiar feel
for the sleek marble interior,
the Sargent murals, the atrium
where we lunched a long time ago.
We haven’t been friends for years.
My telegrams went unanswered,
my gift baskets were returned.

But now you must explain why
the cheerful strata of books
arrayed on miles and miles of shelving
have gone blank and wordless, why deep
in the modern annex the skeletons
of ancient librarians dance
in a scene from a Bergman film.

You know every angle and creak
of both the old marble block
and the poured concrete annex
with its tinted plate glass views.
You know who has tumbled down
the slick marble stairways and which
bones they’ve broken. You know

when the plumbing shrieks with pain
and when it remains silent 
no matter how frequent the flush.
Explain why it has become a tomb,
digesting everyone who enters.
Explain why unalterable law
has repealed itself and replaced

its guardians with unlettered
armies of the dead. Don’t ignore
this phenomenon. The world
depends on your intimate knowledge,
the yellow marble writhing,
the famous granite façade
a rictus of malignant wit.

William Doreski

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Mist in Their Eyes (2021).  He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors.  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.