The smell of them is gone: dust-dry, the fear of fire,
I used to brush clouds of it from my hair.
They were reserved, a parliament of silence,
words laced tight inside each slender page.
The first sign was the mist growing through
the brass grilles in the floor. A field
of frost-licked grass, gone in a breath.
Then waves of fog rolled out along the shelves,
I opened books and found them blank inside.
Last week there were reports of rain, deep
in the stacks. We ran the heating till
the boiler failed, the floorboards mumbling
words of rushing water. Now the air is heavy,
clogged with damp, my hair is rats’ tails
on my neck, my clothes are plastered cold against
my skin. The library lies dazed and swollen
on the shelves, its words leached out and clotted
in this spell to raise a river like a demon from the earth.
The books are spent; the bells all rusted dumb;
I cannot get a candle to stay lit.
The Library Unbound by Claire Quigley first appeared in Issue 4 of Bare Fiction Magazine in November 2014.