Death Cart, 1986, by Luis Tapia, carved aspen with mica, human hair and teeth, and pony tail holder. Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Tintinnabulation of the Poe Poe Poe-m

Even in the most modern of archives, some spooky things lurk right under our noses. Enjoy a poem that sings their praises…or does it?

Dear Reader,

We greet you today with a tale that tolls for thee. (Our safety officer suggests you gather your earplugs and ear muffs, but that may not be enough to stop your hearing the refrain in your head, head, head.) With apologies and a Toast to Mister Poe...carry on reading, if you dare!

Wooden cart with seated skeleton.

The Carts

I

Hear the rolling of the carts —
Silver carts!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of storage!
Where the boxes prevent wrinkles
All the Patrons, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
With their pencils tapping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the carts, carts, carts, carts,
Carts, carts, carts —
From the jingling and the tinkling of the carts.

Weathered white label with black text. II

Hear the mellow Preservation carts —
Golden carts!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of acclimation
How they soften by humidification! —
From the molten-golden papers,
And all in baths,
What Deterioration Products float
To the conservators that listens, while they gloat
On the vats!
Oh, from out the Papers’ cells,
What a gush of Acidity voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the future! — how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the carts, carts, carts —
Of the carts, carts, carts, carts,
Carts, carts, carts —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the carts!

III

Hear the loud unoiled carts —
Rusted carts!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
Startling the Reading Room
How they scream out Fear and Doom!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only squeak, squeak,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the oil,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic boil
Rolling further, further, further,
With a desperate toil,
And a resolute endeavour
Now — now to sit, or never,
By the side of the pale-faced Researcher.
Oh, the carts, carts, carts!
What a tale their terror tells
Of despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the Staff, they fully know,
By the twanging
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yes, the squeak distinctly tells,
In the jangling
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the carts —
Of the carts —
Of the carts, carts, carts, carts,
Carts, carts, carts —
In the clamor and the clangor of the carts!

Mannequin pieces on a blue cart.

IV

Hear the tolling of the carts —
Powder-coated Iron carts!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the Reading Room,
How we shiver with Fright and Gloom
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every dust that motes
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the Data — ah, the Data
They that dwell up in the Cloud
All alone,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the Archives’ fonds a stone —
They are neither man nor woman —
They are neither brute nor human —
They are Bits: —
And their Linking it is what rots: —
And it pings, pings, pings,
Pings
A Pæan from the carts!
And the merry Server thrives
With the Pæan of the carts!
And it spins and loads its drives;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the Pæan of the carts —
Of the carts: —
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the carts —
Of the carts, carts, carts —
To the sobbing of the carts: —
Keeping time, time, time,
As it starts, starts, starts,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the carts —
Of the carts, carts, carts: —
To the tolling of the carts —
Of the carts, carts, carts, carts,
Carts, carts, carts —
To the moaning and the groaning of the carts.

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