This is an article written by Patricia McKeon for the WEA creative writing course about a book in the Oak Room of the Picton Library.
You enter the outdoor sanctum that bustles and shushles; cuckoo coffee beans grinding in the corner. Stand under, look up. Spirals of glass and wood, metal and paper carry you to the glassy zenith. The eyes of Athena and Shakespeare and Joyce peer down through the gull ridden dome. Your interest is taken only briefly, just a careless flirtation as you journey away from the flashing monitors to where your heart lies.
A simple step is the narrow bridge between worlds and you turn your back as the lump in your throat forces its way wetly out through your eyes.
Deep breaths as you inhale the dust and the mites that flutter from the written word.
Spines in cages stand to attention; a dignified salutation. Iron bars and spiral bars march quietly in circular formation. You nod, benignly as though it is all your own creation. A respectful bow to their ancient wisdom. A bow in respect of their respect.
The luminary globe reflects the inner eye and the outer sky. Look up, spin around, feel the circles encircling the comforting rotundity of this room.
You follow, o sheomra go seomra1, led by great Pillars of stone, pillars of oak. They rise in stately honour of the books they hold. Great sheaths of glass reflecting, deflecting.
You are all in awe but follow me now into the room that is the wooden womb, that is the acorn in all this oak. Audoben’s2 book has won the fight to be the biggest book in the smallest room. It reclines, open paged, vulgar in its wantonness. Preening plumed birds beckon you to partake in admiration of their mirrored beauty. As above, so below.
Here it is now, you have found the eye. The Cyclops of the Wood.
The one eye, the Balor4, the suil amhain4, the all-seeing eye, the evil eye. Peering from the mighty oaken walls, commanding your attention is Faith’s5 eye. The only eye whose iris is a crocus. It stares glassily from its bed of green leather, sharing a home with Holy Jesus and Rowley’s birds. Holy Jesus stands side by side with The History of England and if you listen you might hear them plotting some destruction6. And if you listen you will know that they never had the answer.
But they had and they have the one-eyed cyclops. It is but one eye, offering but one narrow vision of the world. Shatterproof glass and leather binding are its strength as it sits smugly in its oaken sarcophagus.
Ulysses is ‘no man’ as he was then in Polyphemus’s cave. Ulysses is ‘no man’ as he was then in Joyce’s Citizen7. Ulysses must now become ‘every man’8 in the battle with the Cyclops.
- From room to room
- John James Audoben’s “Birds of America”
- Balor was a Celtic/ Irish one-eyed god of death
- One eye
- Play on the name Faith Shannon who created this book binding in 1978
- Books in the same glass case
- The Citizen in Joyce’s Ulysses
- ‘man’ is used here to include all the peoples!