History

Turn the pages, slowly. Each word afloat
on narrative’s sea, each glyph the principal
character in its own story, each clinging on
for dear life. A is aleph, an ox. Upside down,
its blank, horned face blazes through millennia.

Imagine each letter like this. Imagine
its cursive bend and swoop the black-clad
curve of a peasant’s thigh as he bows
among dew-weighted barley. Here, the tendril
on the pale nape of a concubine’s neck.
Here, the serif of a beggar-child’s bare foot.
They cluster, they importune, they whisper
but we don’t listen to them, we turn the pages,
slowly, lifted by the grand wave. A letter, a word,
a page, a book. Smoke coils and thickens, ash
carries on the wind, lifts and settles, and this, too,
is history: the burning of a thousand thousand libraries.

Published in NZ Books 86, 2009