A Dictionary of How to Live Properly pex

A Dictionary of How to Live Properly

Poet: Sarah Salway

Some days in the library, I pause by the gap

in the shelf where it should sit, dampen 


my finger to catch dust fallen from its pages. 

I’ve even licked the two books on either side,


ignoring the tuts of the librarian 

as she fiddles with the plant on her desk.


Orchids stand for death, I told her once,

but she said it had bloomed 


three times already. Just needs proper care, 

she says, as if I don’t know what that means.


I’ve grown to hate that orchid, its pale roots 

like a hospital patient’s legs planning an escape,


and how much time she wastes fussing over it

when some of us can’t find the book we need.


Her pink lips dance as she tells me yet again

how the Dictionary doesn’t exist, she doesn’t like it 


when I stand so close to her desk, blocking

other readers who want to get on with their lives.

Sarah's writing has appeared in a number of publications, including the Virago Book of Shopping, the Poetry of Sex (Penguin Books), Poetry London, the Financial Times, Psychologies magazine, and has been commissioned by BBC Radio 4. She's a Hawthornden Fellow, former Canterbury Laureate, and has twice been awarded international residential Fellowships from Virginia Center for Culture and Arts in the US. In addition to Twitter and Instagram, you can also find Sarah on Substack and at Writer in the Garden.