Overdue – a poem

Thanks to poet Gary Margolis for sharing this library-related poem.

The library sends you a notice to return
three hundred books of theirs
shelved in your personal library.

No other patron has asked to borrow
one of them over these years.
Before there were security men

and x-rays, a chip, to let the circulation
desk know where a book has been.
On a shelf. Next to a bed. In a satchel

left on a train, traveling from Paris
to Bonn and back again. You have no
way of retrieving. Or remembering

if that book was rare.
If there were notes in the margins,
you, or some other reader, wrote in pen.

Another offence against you,
in this borrowed lifetime.
Which is never long enough to pretend

you’ll have enough time, in the after-
life or here, to renew yourself.
Ignore all the overdue notices

that used to arrive by boat,
to your unaddressed island.
Where, you’re happy to assume,

no one can reach you. Or that drone
overhead, dropping its hook,
to retrieve what you don’t believe

isn’t yours. Which you can keep for
as long as there are writers,
who want you to read what they have written.

Editors and publishers who believe
in more than one reader. And buildings
as large as computers, to hold all

the books in the world, for someone
like you to take out, forget whether you have
read them or not. And where they belong.

-Gary Margolis Ph.D.
Executive Director, Emeritus,
College Mental Health Services
Associate Professor of English
and American Literatures
Middlebury College

1 thought on “Overdue – a poem

  1. Brenda Ellis

    Ok, I have to take issue with a few lines but maybe I’m missing the point or a bit of satire. 1) No one has asked to borrow them? When the system shows them checked out, most users move on (of if they know to use ILL, there will be no record of this tied to it in the system), and of course no one browsing the bookshelves will know of their existence. 2) There are no chips in the books to tell us where they are, even if we had RFID chips it wouldn’t tell us where they are outside the building. We don’t even keep a record of who had them once they are checked back in. 3) Is Gary admitting to writing in library books and in pen no less? Surely not. Other than that, it’s a great poem and it gets you thinking and at least it is a distraction from the email onslaught :)


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