there is an old man or woman
who sits in a field
or at a table
and thinks original thoughts.
The thoughts they think
are heard by someone
who is also in the field or
at the other end of the table
which is long and out of sight.
The original thoughts go in the ear
of the one listening and are taken home.
Stolen, like the slight-of-hand of ears.
The next day the thief tells what he has heard
to this friend who is a sweeper of streets.
The sweeper pretends not to notice
the words as they fall from the mouth of the friend talking,
but takes them home with him
where they enhance his sleep.
In his dreams he passes the oracle on
to a mermaid to whom he is making love,
who the next day passes it on
in the sound of wind and waves
to Hemingway’s old man out alone in his boat.
Hemingway’s old man thinks he is hearing
voices of angels and
writes down the liturgy
the moment he gets home on an old paper sack, and
he tells his wife who works for
the parson scrubbing the rectory floors.
The parson hears her singing
what sound like sacred hymns that
have been set to the music of her voice
and he takes them from her lips and
slips them into the sermon he
has been trying to write all day.
On Sunday, the original words are
heard by every Lutheran in town
and are taken home and repeated
at dinner to a thousand children.
One of the children hears this
and takes one of the words she likes
and begins writing a poem.
It is a poem about the thing
about speech that is almost as good
as silence, and so said.
It is a poem about the moon.
It is a poem about love.
She thinks she is thinking these
things for the first time.
And she is excited by the
sound of her pen on the white page.
The next day the young poet
gives her poem to her boyfriend
who reads it and later throws it away.
His father, the sheriff, finds the
poem on the piece of paper in the trash.
He thinks it is subversive
and written by an enemy of the State.
The poet’s name is on the paper
and the next day soldiers go to her house,
arrest her, and take her to jail.
In her trial, she is accused of
stealing original thoughts from
the old man or woman in the field
or at the long table in town.
The girl tells the judge the truth
and pleads her case eloquently
as only a poet could. But it does no good.
The judge cannot believe that
a young girl could have thought up
these precious words by herself
and finds her guilty of
She is sent back to jail
where she is sentenced to
life in prison, and to
the dreary work of editing the truth
from the Book of Laws.
This is how the story ends:
The girl will die an old woman
writing love poems in the blank pages
at the end of the books she is
working on for the judge.
A hundred years later
will find the writing in the back of the books.
Will collect all the poems scribbled
on all those brown pages,
and sell them to a publisher
as an original book of poems.
All the old books on law
missing the truth
will be burned and
the published poet will travel
around the country reading her poems
to large cheering crowds.
The critics will call her “a genius.”
And rich young men will send her flowers.
This story will be repeated
over and over
for a thousand years.
A handful of poets
made immortal in print, or
as the singers of songs.
Writing the same lines.
The thieves of words.
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