Shelves of Worlds (at Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore in Minneapolis) by Nick Ozment

Shelves of Worlds (at Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore in Minneapolis)
Nick Ozment

Every shelf is packed with imaginary destinations,
the overflow nested in postal trays stacked
five and six high forming new pathways,
each tray numbered and indexed to a list
tacked on the wall matching trays to authors.

Some prolific tale-spinners single handedly
fill their own trays — two or three reserved
specially for an enchanter’s life’s output.

Dream-weavers, all, a few whose names
have become legend, rolling off the tongue
like invocations — Asimov, Bradbury, Le Guin–

while some are minor wizards all but forgotten,
who spent decades working their enchantments,
casting spells beyond counting,
profuse enough to supply at least
a thousand-and-one nights.

I wander in a half-dream, overwhelmed
by how many — how many visions are pressed
between these myriad covers, little locked doors with lurid
paintings commissioned by Daw and Ace and Tor…

A thousand authors, ten thousand worlds —
that was it! — The impression that left me dazed:

So many worlds surrounded me;
I would never have time enough to visit even
a fraction. So many portals would remain
closed, moldering away, paper keys disintegrating
as their pages foxed and yellowed.

Here a spell unread,
there an incantation untapped,
their pleasures never tested.

Overwhelmed, discouraged,
I latch onto a Leiber and regain my bearings.

Giddy amid this ensorcelling maelstrom,
this labyrinth of quaint and curious volumes
of escapist speculation, I take a deep breath and ponder.

Margaret St. Clair! Had I not just read somewhere
That The Shadow People was a spellbinding journey?
Here it is; they have it — of course they have it!

I pluck up a book or two by Burroughs, their Frazetta
paintings beckoning me back to that other lost world:
my childhood.

I pay for these old new acquisitions — thank you kindly
the bell on the door jingles with a whiff of crisp air
as I trudge back out into a drab Minnesota day
armed against the mundane with a stack of talismans —
these not-quite-forgotten little books of magic —

Wards against loss of wonder,
Hexes to banish monotonous ruts,
Runes to restore a healthy sense of awe,
Charms to revive the curiosity of youth.

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