by Jonathan Seibert
Ashes Leftover from a Blazing Night
after Kristen Tordella-Williams “Burnt Books”
and Ondrej Pazdirek “Landscape from the Fall of Icarus Again Again”
I wasn’t alive when the library of Alexandria
burned—but this isn’t another one
of those poems. This isn’t about fear
or hate this time, I too deleted those lines.
What stood out to me is the scars
your pages now bear, because when I thought about the books
from Alexandria, I assumed their secrets were all scorched to ashes––
their words lost like whispers in a crowd; yet here I am, towering
over a tribe of books unrecognized
by most, their insides damaged by war or a simple accident.
These books are not shy, desperately trying to conceal their wounds––
rather, they pridefully embrace them, spread-eagle
on a blank canvas on display to the world
as if to say, “Here I am. Accept me for what I’ve become.”
I notice couplets of words on one book’s page, faint pictures
from another, only burnt marshmallow gunk
on another. It isn’t all gone after all,
but they’re far from the same. I wonder if the man who risked
his life to save just one book from the roaring
fires of Alexandria ever dared to open the history he had rescued,
or if he was afraid it too had been singed beyond value? Perhaps when the first
neanderthal discovered a Mesopotamian man writing on papyrus
he felt as I do now. Frightened, not of what was being done,
but by the change itself. I wasn’t there when we invented the internet,
and so I never learned what it was like for our ancestors
to pour out their stories on naked paper with pen.
I never learned what it was like to have the one copy
of your life’s work burn in front of you,
as a clone of mine will always live on somewhere in the cloud.
But what I did learn is what it felt like to have the inability
for people to read your most intimate details
known only to you and the page they were imprinted on. I stand here now,
looking over this collection of memories forgotten
and I ask myself: when the sun rose on the Alexandrians,
did they reach for another piece of paper,
sit down just as we do today and say:
Here’s to the blank page.