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A Dictionary of How to Live Properly

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.

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