for Shane Brady
And books give off more nastier dust than any other class of objects invented,
and the top of a book is where every bluebottle prefers to die.
‘Bookshop Memories’ George Orwell
The crushing sadness of Rangoon on a Sunday afternoon
when the city flags under monsoon and an all day darkness
and deluge, broken gutters expectorating, balconies weep
and walls and gables all mapped in patinas of black mould
where every drain has overflowed to river the streets
and your feet. And it’s your nose that brings you to a bookshop
where mildew almost suffocates, as if every book will soon bind
into one lumpen mass, having absorbed the shelves, sponged up
the damp surrounds and the very air, all bearing witness to nothing
ever lasting here. An hour in and little of interest, Successful Poultry
Management among the ubiquitous manuals for the merchant navy,
once the only way out of this country’s isolation.
No surprises, until another edition of Du Fu, which my elsewhere shelves
are full of, but drawn to the cover of colourful murals from the Tonhuaung
Caves and where the book falls open, Travel in the Middle Years,
‘the scent of the orchid fades away …the wicked have not yet
been brought to justice’ and Melancholy in the Autumn Rain,
‘we have not seen the sun, when will mother earth became dry again.’
Difficult to resist and made more so because of the bookmarks;
a 1979 ticket to a vanished cinema, a tiny printed recipe
which could pass for a prayer, two worthless five Kyat notes
and a folded page of yellowed paper with an inked handprint
on either side, one male and the other female? Both hands etched ghostly,
skiagram of their union and beneath and written in Burmese,
5 am Thursday 21st of October in the Burmese year of 1315.
So sixty years since they separated, since Du Fu presided across
twelve centuries, since that morning perhaps, when one walked out
into the empty streets, each returned to themselves, the monsoon tailing
and like Du Fu’s lone wild goose, replying to cries that were its’ own echoes.