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Page 78

When are words a poem? Who knows?
At least there's no doubt that a book is a book,
a page is a page and writing is writing,

although, when first dug out of the ruins
of Herculaneum (buried in 79 A. D.
beneath the hot mud, ash and gas
of Vesuvius), 2000 papyrus scrolls were initially
mistaken for vaguely cylindrical lumps
of charcoal.

Now, nearly 300 years after their unearthing,
scholars have learned to peel them apart, patchily,
and even, under infra-red light, discern their Greek
and Latin characters. (To me Greek is already
a blankness, not an achievement of clarity. It's
not even Greek to me.)

The scholars are excited -- fragments of late
Epicurean discussions that quote until-now-lost
passages from Sappho, and who-knows-what-more
may speak to them from lumps of charcoal
(like the small still voice of the bush that burned,
but was not consumed) --

isn't that the fun of literature? Lumps and sheets
of stuff (the stuff of old wood, doorknobs, furniture,
walls, star dust) speaking to us in our own voices?

Note: The bush that burned, but was not consumed is not George W. (the Bush to whom alone God reveals his plans for Iraq -- or through whom that God perhaps speaks to us, if God is a Neoconservative), but the bush from which God spoke (or spake) to Moses. Those charcoal scrolls (usable as fuel) were burned, or buried beneath hot ashes and thoroughly blackened, but not quite consumed.

Re last stanza above: Wouldn't that be a great way to review books? "This book is wonderful! As I looked at its paper pages, words appeared, and I understood them. It was as if someone were speaking to me! What a neat trick!"

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