When I look closely at my countenance, I am afraid
I see an early alphabet ghosting
beneath this modern text. Something
like a splotch of α claims me, among other mysteries.
After all, this skin is not unlike a fifteenth century leaf
in need of preservation. Consider the neglected
volumes in a seminary somewhere near Seattle
that a Jesuit brought back from Florence in the 1960s—
late medieval missals perfumed with must,
vellum pages and gothic miniscule to bend the reader
earthward as he pondered the weight of visions.
When scholars came, not one could spare the time
to catalog or to preserve, and decades passed
and few remained who even read the letters Þ
and ð, morphed to dust on curious fingers,
recalling the Lenten ritual, and unto dust
thou shalt return, like a thumb
of newsprint on an aging Jesuit’s brow.
And now it is he who is the last to know these books,
and so his task remains: to call these remote words
into a kind of order, to preserve for a few decades more
their place, as I might try to preserve my thinning
skin, or, you, this poem on paper, acid-free
or, better yet, in endless space that swims into a screen
and goes where rockets do not even go, infinity
of sorts, the kind scribes never dreamed.
Who could have guessed that text would surface
from such empty air and not grow cold? Or not grow
old, as bodies surely do. Celestial,
each word might seem, a luminary mask—
it hardly matters that the face is gone.
Originally appeared in Dogwood 2005