At the Archive Reading Room
Step off the street into the silence,
climb the stairs, produce your card
and push into the past.
Directories and almanacs,
old books and manuscripts,
lie waiting in repose for invocation,
your mark upon a chit of paper.
Withered maps and photographs,
guidebooks from a distant time,
ephemera of one kind or another
are wheeled along on soundless trolleys,
quickened, photocopied, browsed, returned,
Here you will find
your faceless ancestors
buried in dusty books,
in boxes on marked shelves,
under the dead leaves
of never-read pamphlets
and dog-eared photographs.
Readers are advised to take care
when handling manuscripts,
pencils only can be used for taking notes.
Archive materials are fragile, often irreplaceable,
so you are requested not to write on them,
not to lean on them,
not to place any object on top of them.
Record-keeping is an art,
not an act of administration.
Keep conversation to a minimum,
turn off your mobile phone or silence it.
Sit quietly and wait until
the flat file of their disaster
opens out across your desk:
the sundered walls, the roof collapsed,
the salty tears of barefoot children
washing dirty faces.
Time is passing. Ineluctably the
wheels will turn, the walls will fall,
all things will keep, tears dry in time.