The antiquarian’s eye

In this trade objects are not made


In this trade objects are not made –
they pass through incarnations of ownership.
Things turn up, things are hunted down.
Discernment is an important skill.
Do not be defeated by vociferous offers,
do not overlook the dark, the sad, the unloved.
It takes an eye practised in disappointment
to see when age and dirt increase desirability
and when they are a blight.
You’ll trudge through many auction rooms,
through the boxed-up houses of the dead
and the homes of the dying – picking up,
turning down, cavilling – then stuffing a taxi
full of junk to rescue a few rare pages.


I dream you hold a bundle in your hands –
just an old sack. Book-like, perhaps.
In age and in its modesty 
it resembles a monk’s vade mecum –
full of words, but unspeaking.
The leather chafed by rough thumbs,
stained by sweat and the road’s dust.
Once carried by wise men as a talisman,
well-known and seldom read.

When I say it is a bundle, I mean
it is not recognisable at first.
The familiar has been rearranged,
is confused, turns in upon intimations 
of a hidden, denser weight.
The secret both resists your curiosity
and demands it. Is it a living thing?
Has it been deliberately abandoned
or slowly forgotten? Have you seen it before?

The material of which it is made is memory.
The counterweight it contains attracts your eye.
The two forms sway together, meet and pass, 
as sugar and lead do on a grocer’s scales –
off-kilter, only guessing at each other’s weight.
Whiteness is woven over a dark weft.
Shadows lie in folds at the neck
where time is throttled.
And you can stare no longer. 

I know you will open it. Ease the twine 
through the holes to which it has mouldered.
It splinters in your fingers, unwilling –
but the mouth splays. There languishes
a prism that has lain demure in darkness
and now bites the eye – a pure glass
mediator of the invisible.
All the light you see by
it transmutes.

MAY 2019 Nancy Campbell MONK

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