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212 West Burdeshaw Street
A mirror masks the mysteries of backroom librarians...
212 West Burdeshaw Street
Asphalt melts in the south Alabama heat. The old farmhouse without a/c. Mama trundles us into her wood-paneled wagon, a Buick, as I breathe, and drives twenty miles to 212 West Burdeshaw Street. Tooth-white columns book-end the door. The inside fluoresces cool as linoleum floor upon your cheek. The air is ink and paper and old bindings. A whirring ka-chunk ka-chunk of a date-due stamper, the library’s steadying heartbeat. A mirror masks the mysteries of backroom librarians. My brother says they watch from the other side, but all I see is the mirror of myself staring back, so I search and find my place to hide in stack upon stack of books. One day we criss-cross applesauce impatiently on the floor. A librarian deftly threads her elephant-gray projector. The film flickers a face in a flour-sack scarecrow mask that fills the screen. Though I’ll often dream the scarecrow, I seldom wake to scream. Saint Jerome, for the book-keepers, I pray: bind them tight between two boards so their leaves won’t blow away, and when they turn to dust as all the righteous must, bypass heaven’s halls to preserve, return, and carry their soaring shushing souls to the ever-after-library.
Matt Layne writes…
I have loved libraries from the moment my scuffed-up Buster Browns first stepped onto the shiny linoleum halls of the Houston-Love Memorial Library in Dothan, Alabama. Even though I've worked in libraries for almost twenty years, I still find something ineffably exhilarating about existing in a room filled with shelf upon shelf of books. Books transport us. They transform us. Who has not had their heart broken or changed or set on fire by the pages of a book?
Perhaps that's why there's been such an increase in book challenges over the past year. People are scared. Concepts they have held dear are being challenged in books, music, movies, and television shows, and their knee-jerk reaction is to try and stop the flow of information under the banner of protecting the children. They label librarians as pornographers and groomers and threaten them with arrest for offering a diverse selection of materials on their shelves.
We are experiencing it first-hand here in Alabama. In addition to being a librarian and a poet, I am also the president of the Alabama Library Association. As soon as I was sworn in, a river of book challenges began raging across my desk from small towns like Prattville, Ozark, Fairhope, and even from my beloved Houston-Love Memorial Library in Dothan. Librarians are facing harassment online and in-person, and it is time for all book lovers to stand up for the First Amendment and support their local libraries. Have you told your librarian how much you appreciate them lately? Give them a call. Give them a thanks, and while you're at it, check out some good books.
“212 West Burdeshaw Street” appears in Miracle Strip, released August 31, 2022.
Miracle Strip, a poetry collection by Matt Layne, is a unique hybrid of the written and spoken word. Each piece of the collection has an end-stop embellishment QR code which, when scanned, transforms the reader into a listener. Layne has recorded each poem, often with the accompaniment of musician and poet, Ned Mudd. The first line of the book invites the reader to “tell me your story, and I will tell you mine,” in the campfire tradition. In Miracle Strip, the reader and poet embark on an experiential journey of memories and the ghosts who haunt us.
Poet, librarian, raconteur; Matt Layne has been poking hornet's nests and looking under rocks for lizards and snakes since he was knee-high to a peanut peg. A founding member of the 1990s improvisational poetry collective, The Kevorkian Skull poets, Layne believes in the radical transformative power found in the intersection of poetry and art, and he wants you to write your truth and share it out loud. A multiple Hackney Award winning writer, he has also been recognized by the National Society of Arts and Letters and been featured in Peek Magazine, Birmingham Arts Journal, Steel Toe Review, B-Metro, and elsewhere. Look for him at your local library.
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