The Scribes

Alistair Elliot

More and more often, knowing that you’re dying,
I think of the letter-writers at the post office
in that hot square, with their low desks and dip-pens
waiting in the shade of their municipal trees
for the illiterate victims of time and distance –
the dealers in words, renewing or untying.

Whenever I passed them I would think of paying
to have my raw wish wrapped in the empty nets
of their professional calligraphy,
the well-rubbed language of a thousand nights,
and always hesitated (‘how could she
know what these frightening loops and spikes were saying?’).

I should have paid, and risked your sitting crying
in your own post office, half-wanting to laugh
at this incomprehensible world of effort.
But how could I foresee our separate lives? –
and the need for something kept from the fire, a comfort
framed on the wall, a cause of shrugs and smiling,

diploma from another way of lying:
those syllables, formed by someone with the tip
of his tongue just showing, would say I love you (formal),
I love you (intimate) over your throne-of-sleep –
where you no longer        (verb used only by female)
between the Indian coverlet and the domes of silence.