Academic journal article Field

Alphabets

Academic journal article Field

Alphabets

Article excerpt

I

A shadow his father makes with joined hands

And thumbs and fingers nibbles on the wall

Like a rabbit's head. He understands

He will understand more when he goes to school.

Then he draws smoke with chalk the whole first week,

Then draws the forked stick that they call a Y.

This is writing. A swan's neck and swan's back

Make the 2 he can see now as well as say.

Two rafters and a cross-tie on the slate

Are the letter some call ah, some call ay.

There are charts, there are headlines, there is a right

Way to hold the pen and a wrong way.

First it is 'copying out', and then 'English'

Marked correct with a little leaning hoe.

Smells of inkwells rise in the classroom hush.

A globe in the window tilts like a coloured O.

II

Declensions sang on air like a hosanna

As, column after stratified column,

Book One of Elementa Latina,

Marbled and minatory, rose up in him.

For he was fostered next in a stricter school

Named for the patron saint of the oak wood

Where classes switched to the pealing of a bell

And he left the Latin forum for the shade

Of new calligraphy that felt like home.

The letters of this alphabet were trees.

The capitals were orchards in full bloom,

The lines of script like briars coiled in ditches.

Here in her snooded garment and bare feet,

All ringleted in assonance and woodnotes,

The poet's dream stole over him like sunlight

And passed into the tenebrous thickets.

He learns this other writing. …

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