Rough-cut paper tells you it’s a first edition and the must takes you back —
Years spent, nose down. Ink-smudges and fountain nibs, the romance
Of Umberto Eco and sharp-edged medieval scores. There’s a deep
Connection through time to these communities of scribes,
Marginal notes griping about aching hands and the bastardry of abbots.
The stitches binding ancient almanacks weave together seasons,
Practical planting alongside mysterious hints at magic and moons.
Sometimes I have a sense that we sit at the far end of a skein
That has travelled from Ea-Nasir to now, and that some day soon,
The very last word to be committed to a physical form will be printed,
And probably — sadly, inevitably — by machine rather than by hand,
And not with any grand vermillion embossed Initial, nor any ornament,
Nor inscribing the wonders of the world for the elucidation of the wicked.
Even the words call to me — codex and quire, scriptorum and majuscule.
The immensity of the written word overwhelms — the secrets it unfolds:
The broadsheets exhorting resistance; the front page announcing war;
The spidery hand recording generations; the flourish of a guestbook;
The passing down of closely held recipes; the decoding of devastating plans;
the exchange of delicious intimacies between lovers, scrawled
on hastily folded letters sent through unsuspecting post…
None of these worlds were the sum of the moments captured on their pages.
In all of them, from clay to parchment to vellum to rags to tree pulp,
Life was more complex and more tedious than it appears from afar.
My wall is covered with shelves and my shelves are filled with books
And yet these words are crafted from electrons and light
In a palimpsest more flimsy than the thinnest onionskin.