In the Sinai, in the 17th century B.C.,
Semitic slaves mine turquoise and build
a temple to an Egyptian goddess.
Their Egyptian overlords hold the power
of a vast system of hieroglyphics.
The slaves have nothing.
These slaves may have invented
the handful of symbols
we call our alphabet.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world
to shame the wise.
God chose the weak things of the world
to shame the strong.”
1 Corinthians 1:27
Your crew shuffles out
Into hard desert light,
Gulps a long drink,
Collapses for a break.
You shamble over and scratch the rock.
The Egyptians chuckle:
The Asian dogs are scratching!
But this is more.
What can ooze through the scar
Drinking down the dark,
The dirt, the fear of falling,
Losing, like an eye, the blue of sky
To claw the blue rock…
You’ve been unearthing something else.
Oh, they have all the signs,
A thicket of a thousand signs
To brag of wars, wild chariots,
Gleaming wealth—from your mines.
While your palms are empty.
You hang from ropes to hunt the fine blue stone.
They wear it
And you watch. You simply
Watch. The Lady’s stones, the mystic signs—
They are not yours to use.
Close by the temple, which is closed to you,
You float on a stream, a dream of wine and worship
With the goddess.
You, too, shuffle near the Lady
With your earthy, sweaty prayers
And dream the steaming feast:
Once-hollow slaves released,
You scratch a grand, graffiti afterlife
Where even you can taste
Spit-roasted oxen, honey-cakes and wine.
Sometimes you stare
At their carvings in the stone,
One thousand subtle signs, and all
Beyond you, like the gleaming stars at night.
But the desert can empty a man
And draw him to wells of new wisdom.
So, ringed by crags and tunnels,
Gods and glyphs,
You glide into another dream:
Close by the temple, closed (like an eye) to you,
You, too, carve signs,
Old signs turned loose and new,
Rogue signs the scribes would call unsound.
But sounding out the darkness
Is your daily dance.
Now, of the thousand crushing signs
You ruminate on thirty,
Plenty for the avalanche
You still cannot imagine. Less is more,
A door. And thirty crush a thousand.
In these few signs, you conquer.
You haul rock every day,
And so your signs are light.
Ill-equipped and illimitable,
You are unempowered,
You are unimpeded,
As lizards are unstoppable by locks.
Beside the scribes’ fine strokes
Yours are crude:
This is your sword. You simplify.
And that is why
Scratchers are overtaking scribes.
The feast you dream
Lets loose an unheard scream,
The whispered overthrow
That no one even knows,
A deep earthquake,
A sweeping sack,
Where not one jewel is taken,
But so much is given
That even a child is changed.
What is old cannot remain.
You cannot see beyond the fort you storm,
Yet a new world is born.
All this was so unscripted:
Those who had no script
Scripting the world.
Great wheels are turned by laziness:
The greatest leap,
A great escape,
Your lazy shortcut through the hieroscape
Blooms as new petals among stones,
Fresh fire for all,
Inverting the world,
Till millions write and write—
For the old guild with their gold: a blight.
For filthy miners: light.
Unstoppable as a whistling desert wind,
The mighty script,
The scratch heard round the world.
Heroes, I thank you.
With empty hands
You have changed everything,
Empowering every Adam
To name his world.