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Our lady of the library
Outside magnolias sleep. Shadow spires slope
across her chest – the clatter from the curtain
rings retreating. Her profile, level, unaccustomedly
lit, as though a quarter had clicked in the glassy
case of a derelict arcade. Her body’s folds
softening to chalk, drowned packets of bone
disturbed by no midwinter, rayless and coddled.
At the waist, the wrinkled hands could be vellum,
pliable as her stab-stitched companions ranged
across the shelves, clasped against the clang
of morning. I would have said something,
Margaret, in the heavy air, the violating must
my so rare breath had stirred. How helpless
is matter – these frail volumes dismantled bit
by bit, in the rash of terrible light. How the eye
strives to right itself, where the image fastens
to its humours, reversed and wrong-way-up,
where the white of a laid-out mother sparks
in a darkened passage, shaking by the shelves.
In spring, the magnolia’s pendent blooms
have their own strange gravity – the world
a flipped and fingered slide, its own iconoclast.

Editor's Note: First published in the Intimate Distances exhibition catalogue, by artist Issam Kourbaj: