The Liberating Power of Yo-Yos

Linda Apple, “Yo-Yo”

Students in my British Fantasy and Jane Austen classes submitted essays prior to leaving for Thanksgiving (guess what I’ll be doing over the holidays), so I offer up this poem to them. It’s a poem by my father about breaking free of the dark recesses of a library.

It’s a curious poem for my father to have written given that he loves nothing better than to dive into library archives. Or as he puts it in his poem, to “dig deep and piously pursue the gold of academic glory. Nevertheless, even he, apparently, sometimes finds libraries oppressive, experiencing them as a “Cave of Winds” inhabited by owls and gnomes. Even he fantasizes himself as a “dark demonic bearded one” making a radical break from library protocol. I haven’t asked him but I think he wrote this while pursuing his research into the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire in the French National Library. The poem is a translation of a poem he originally wrote in French, so I suspect it was composed during a summer in the 1950’s when I was a child and he left us to study in Paris.

Enjoy the escape.

Owls and Yo-Yo: The National Library

By Scott Bates

A thousand mushrooms in the Cave
Of Owls illuminate in green
A thousand gnomes of darkness who
In dust of ancient song and story
Dig deep and piously pursue
The gold of academic glory.

A dark demonic bearded one
Arises quickly from his place
To launch in dusk Cimmerian
With cunning and malicious grace
A marvelous yo-yo spinning red
through vast invinities of space

Epiphany in the Cave of Winds!
Shivers passing through the sleep
Of owls and gnomes as Titan hands
Launch a brand-new planet here
Into the universal deep
Humming its harmony of sphere

O yo-yo yo-yo thundering
Its bloody red apocalypse!
For lo the Mighty YO-YO comes
From highest heaven like a sun
Rebounding back up on its string
Transcendent over everything

And lo the gnomes of night take flight
And pass through windows one by one
As beauteous birds of paradise
To lands of literature and light
Singing with lays and rondelets
The Great Red YO-YO in the sun.


Update: My father informs me that this is based on something that actually happened when he was studying in the Bibliothèque nationale in 1964. He said everyone in the crowded room stopped what they were doing and stared when one of the patrons started playing with a yo-yo.

A note on the artist: Linda Apple’s painting can be found at


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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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