Time Travel

Books are time travel
Because I can meet
Frederick Douglass and Madeleine L’Engle
At the same time

When I was a child
I didn’t understand
That authors could be dead
They seemed alive to me
As long as their books were printed

People showed me dates
Copyright © 1951
As if this was supposed to mean
The book died before I was even born
I couldn’t understand
The book seemed alive to me
And 1951 was just
An incomprehensible string of numbers

George MacDonald and Julian of Norwich
Teresa of Avila and Sherman Alexie
Sojourner Truth and Diane Duane
Donna Williams and Saint John of the Cross
Lao Tsu and J. R. R. Tolkien

These are people who would never
Just decide to get together
But you can read them side by side
And it’s like meeting all of them
Sitting round a table
And talking to them
About their ideas

Much has been written
In lofty language
About the immortality of the page
But I was living it directly
In written words
Long before anyone taught me
The sonnets of Shakespeare:

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.”*

You will go to the moon
No one has been there yet”**
Reads a book that I cherished as a child
But how could it lie to me
When Neil Armstrong had been there
Many years before my birth?

Copyright © 1959, said the book
But this had no meaning to me
If the book existed now
How could it fail
To have modern knowledge?

Later, I learned that books
Are the only form of time travel
Available to human beings
Encapsulated in each page
Is the time and place
Where the author wrote the words

So Lao Tsu and Harriet McBryde Johnson
Can sit side by side on my bookshelf
And side by side in time
And I can travel from modern Charleston
To ancient China and back
In the blink of an eye

* William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55
** You Will Go To The Moon, Mae and Ira Freeman, 1959

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