Beethoven's many scribbled corrections,
thin stems abruptly fading,
the tiny handwriting of Mercator tracing
around a bold red seal like the sun,
da Vinci's studies of mechanics on
thin paper with slightly crooked precision,
and illuminated anthologies in script I can neither read nor touch,
from Persia, Turkey, places whose names have changed more times
than they have open pages under glass.
A single Koran more massive and translucent than all the bibles nearby,
casting spiked and gilded shadows
( even more massive it seems than a mighty gospel I would not dare lift)
(or maybe not as massive, you can't really compare these things)
and the Magna Carta, which isn't the Magna Carta at all
but a ten-years-later copy wrapped tightly and delivered over open county grown larger with backward steps,
weighed down by a seal that wrinkles the paper like wet skin.
The gospel of St. John in small fragments is like the leathered skin of the dead behind other glass,
in other museums, from other places,
but this skin is of a mighty western Beast that hasn't yet died
and the other illuminated manuscripts share space with each other because gold does not distinguish itself between religions;
they are quiet and sacred without touching elbows.
Joseph Conrad has no books here, just a letter,
but as always it speaks of darkness and
also speaks to me.
Everything here seems asleep and
faces are eaten by proximity to closely monitored glass.