A Short History of Writing

In the morning, I went out with the officials.

We kept our characters thick and clear

adopting the peremptory voice

so that every citizen in the villages and towns we came to

could understand the rules. 

Our decrees were affixed to mileposts

and tavern walls, edicts at eye level. 

Truly ‘top down’, as they say.

With a seal embossed with the sign for fire,

nobody could fail to understand the consequences

of disobedience.

 

In the afternoon, I sat with the scholars.

We sought beauty for our calligraphy.

It merged and overlapped, eddied and meandered

adopting a melodious voice

for this scroll as it draped across our knees,

unrolled across courtyards and town squares.

People hurried past on their errands,

occasionally stopping to lift a corner.

After much bickering, the seal was imprinted

with the sign for air,

so everyone would understand it was impossible

to divide the scroll into parts.

 

In the evening, rain dissolved my paper.

My resolution weakened by the twilight,

I was beset by doubts about whether I had anything to say,

what voice was left for me to say it in,

who would stand in the downpour to read it?

My brushes were dishevelled, and as the characters ran and blotted,

they ended up making words I hadn’t intended.

I have no seal, but I stamped the fragments anyway,

with the sign for earth, as if to say:

Here.  This, too, has its place.

Meniscus, December 2021