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I love how they know things
only to pass them on,
how they fade into the faux-wood-panelled
walls of the reference room,
their faces hidden between the covers of books,

How they look up only to help you:
What is the capital of Afghanistan?
How do the Maori bury their dead?
Who invented Barbie? How many were murdered in
Guatemala in ’84?

-Every query worthy of their attention,
any questioner taken seriously,
curiosity the only requirement.
I love how they listen, their lined faces opening,
their eyes already elsewhere:

Scanning a plain for the lights of a distant city,
Hunting for bodies in the highlands,
searching the web for Barbie-
their minds like those flocks of little birds in winter
swooping over a landscape, looking, looking.

And always when they get back to you,
that sweet smile on their faces,
pride and deep affection for what can be known,
as if Barbie’s invention
or the tally of the massacred

Could save you, could save the world!
And who knows if Stalin or Hitler
had spent their youth in the library,
history might be rewritten,
re-catalogued by librarians?

Curiosity sends us out
to a world both larger and smaller
than what we know and believe in
with a passion for finding an answer
or at least understanding our questions.

That road is paved with librarians,
bushwhackers, scouts with string
through the labyrinths of information,
helpers who disappear the moment
you reach your destination.

Julia Alvarez

Pierre Auguste Renoir reading woman

Pierre Auguste Renoir «reading woman»