The earnest monastery scribe begins
to scrape: he must expunge, obliterate
a text of Archimedes. Tonsured pate
bowed over parched and pumiced skins,
stone bench stone-cold, to his chagrin
hemorrhoids, indigestion complicate
his task. But laborare et orare, so he meditates;
offers up his troubles in atonement for his sins.
Beyond clerestory walls descendant sheep
are growing new skins in a lilac breeze.
Fra Pennafolio envies how they graze
oblivious, while lately he’s been losing sleep
fighting dark avengers of Hippocrates.
For help, he rubs his cabuchon of chrysoprase.
He must not let it faze him.
After all, in frugal fact, parchment is dear
and perfect skins are rare. He must persevere,
erase and rewrite without fear.
It is a holy labor, surely in the angels’ care,
to cleanse away the pagans for a book of prayer.
They are not mean, but meaning to be kind,
the ones whose work it is to bring him here–
merely a job to do, to hold and steer
an old man who is frail, half-blind,
toward a sunny bench where he may find
companionship in leafy atmosphere–
perhaps a little bird to tweet some cheer
and take him out of his own mind.
Here, everything is new under the sun:
the spill of light climbs up a tree
a little breast of sand temples the ants
a chickadee bows like a tiny nun
upon a branch, to hear the pink soliloquy
of a wild rose, dressed for the dance.
All is circumstance.
Seated between mirth and agony
no longer wishing to foresee
no longer slave to memory
his ancientness, still as a garden gnome,
waits for whoever comes to fetch him home.
. IN A GARDEN OF GIVENS