Friday poem: 'Beware the Books'
By Imtiaz Dharker
Mad-dog mid-day snarls off the bumper to bumper
eyeball to eyeball hand on the horn buffalo-hide
son-of-a-donkey dick-of-a-dog fucker-of-sister
roadwar at Horniman roundabout. You step aside
from the roar on the street to the door
of Strand Book Stall. Outside falls away.
The air stands still for one beat, heat drops
like a coat, but if you expect a safe haven
think again, you are mistaken. You feel it
at once, the catch in the throat, the prickling
under the skin that says danger lives here,
and you want it.
This was what you came for,
wasn’t it, my dear?
You lift your head for the scent of it. You hear
a ruffling, then a page turns and roars,
blows a girl off a shelf and flings her
across the world to become something more
than she thinks, more than herself.
A faint rustle is all the warning you have before
a tiger springs. Do you feel its breath in your face?
Out of a bookcase, armies of children come
marching to the beat of a drum made of tin,
an entire civilization tumbles down stairs,
and there, a philosopher dares to argue with God
fighting thunder and lightning with words.
Behind you, time shuts down.
Against the palm of your hand, a spine is rippling,
something dangerous prickling under the skin,
and you want it. This was what you came for
my dear, wasn’t it? Come in.
Hold it to your heart like a ticking thing.
From Off the Shelf: A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse, edited by Carol Ann Duffy.
Yesterday was World Book Day, the annual celebration of reading, now in its twentieth year, when millions of book vouchers are distributed to children and young people across the UK and Ireland.
If, like us, you'd like to keep the bookish festivities going for as long as possible, you might want to gather some of your most well-read friends together over the weekend to try out one of these literary party games.
>>>Our tried and tested literary party games
Sign up to the Picador Friday poem email to receive a handpicked poem straight to your inbox each week.