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Friends With a King

By Paul A. White

How did men sit down to write

when they lived among stones

and wore white tunics in the sun?

No one had a monogrammed pen

clipped inside his breast pocket,

and papyrus was expensive.

You had to be rich to write

or be friends with a king.

Some men had use of a stylus,

like the kind you would use

on an iPad. But clay tablets

had to be moistened just right

for gouging the words out.

And you had to be ready to write.

You had to have said it out loud

a thousand times, and refined it

in your mind, seeing the reflection

of it in the faces of your listeners.

You had to have a crowd of them

before you could hope to write.

And you needed to practice the strokes

in your mind, or in the air like a guitar,

before you would dare to touch

the tip of your thought to anything.

Clay tablets can’t be rubbed out.

Papyrus is easily ruined.

You had to want to say it so badly

each stroke, each letter, part of a word

it took years to get in the right place.

You had to want to say it so badly

and yet be at perfect peace about it.

Then you could start. It’s kind of like

trying to get people to listen these days,

trying to write on the soles of their feet.

PAUL A. WHITE lives in Cheektowaga and is a registered nurse working in pediatric home care. Diagnosed as schizophrenic at age 17, he has made writing a daily practice for more than 20 years. His chapbook, “The Difficult Gift” published in 2011 by Jeanne Duval Editions of Atlanta, contains poems about his affliction, its treatment and his recovery.