You will start by laying out the sheets,
twenty of them precisely, impressed
with their maker’s mark: the shield
and trefoil, fleur-de-lys, or raised fist.
You will take the blunt knife and bone
folder, the sleek cream length of it.
Imagine the finished book, so close
you could grasp it. Lift a sheet.
Flex it towards you, smooth the edge
of the folder firmly down the first crease.
Up to your wrists in leaves, you chart
the distractions. The traffic. The sun.
The shadowplay of pages where Dawn
struggles with a broken Venetian blind,
where Claire’s silhouette is vivisected
reaching for the thread, and her shears.
You dream of order, of the clear signatures
Hh, Ii, Kk, of black catchwords to anchor
this tide of white rising against the scrolled
uprights of the sewing frame, its gothic
sprezzatura. Nothing happens, at length.
Judy reads aloud from the newspaper.
Claire swears, the sun goes in again.
Dawn says this is the story of her life.
The first colour: two
crisp slashes of crimson lake,
lime, or midnight blue.
The glue on your square-
tipped brush holding the light like
pearls, and running wih it.
Rounding & Backing
If there is a god he is not a distant one
who sits outside the work and ruffles the pages,
but the stuff of the book, the long
and the short grain of it, its recalcitrance
to the fingers. If the god were an icon
it would be ambidexterous – on the right hand
an artisan holding a set square in profile;
on the left, knuckling down with a hammer
so the strokes fan the single spine to segments,
draw it down and round and call the form
shoulders, name the act persuasion.
If a binder prays, it is now, faced with the book-
block, the angled boards and wooden screws
of the press thicker than your arm, faced with
a single hand to hold six slipperinesses
parallel parallel parallel and level head to toe
because there are no two ways about it:
these shoulders are what the whole thing
hinges on and so you must ignore the less than
immaculate bruising or tearing, and concentrate
because not only the gods are anthropomorphic,
because you have a shape in mind
and by hook or by crook you will get to it.
(Judy says, has anyone seen the Saturday Review?)
Music while you work,
light relief. One hand tuning
the cat gut, the coiled
vellum, the other
throwing quick silk slingbacks in
your needle down through
the spine, tying off every
third loop, for safety.
A radio hums
low under the cat’s cradle
The challenge is to split the hair
from the flesh of the leather, the grain
from the chaffy dust with the concentration
of a woman standing alone by an open window,
not noticing – it is left for us to notice –
how light rims her knife like gold,
or the idea of it, with the precise hit and miss
of a simile. And not looking at the chart
on the wall where the world unfolds
in bull-nosed misalignments, gives a hint
of perspective. She is focused, if at all,
on her hands and their decisive movement
and on the street noises off which drift
like light, like an element she moves in,
a sufficiency. The room is saturate.
And the quick knife creams off a single paring
and lets it fall slack across the table,
notched and nearly weightless as the whole
peel of orange spilled from a painted plate,
the fruit stripped so exactly you think
of reconstruction, of cupping the empty shell
in your palm: a perfect globe.
The calf lies like the world at your finger-tips,
like the earth from the sky.
A chalk-dust surface, the faint parallel
tracks the veins made. At ground level
a single hair stands for a mountain.
Take a sponge and water floods from the four
corners of the landscape to the edge of the known –
In the background, the radio.
Pitch the wet leather like a tent across the book,
smooth out the ridges of your thumbprints.
You want this untouched by human –
The trick is to be anonymous.
Somewhere someone is staring up into the falling
dark, palms flat to the ground.
In the background, the news.
Not listening. Thinking through the atoms
of the earth, connected and connected and connected
under the sky, the single moon.
Like a blindfold, the idea of home.
This has been said so often – the sheet
of gold to aerie thinnesse beat,
the way the leaf crumples like a flame
on point of extinction, you’d think
all the possibilities had been teased out of it.
Still you must admit when you’re the girl
slipping her knife into the tissue and lifting
the 22 carat square gently as you might
a trapped bird, you can feel the weight
of a full five centuries of indrawn breath
released when Judy, whistling, swings open
the door and the gold ripples round the currents
of the air with a slow movement finding out
the gap between the idea of finish
and the means of bringing it about –
But already your fingers are moving fast
across the brass and wooden-handled tools,
testing for heat with a lick of spittle on all
the letters of the line that say this is easy
as faith – and when you are done, the crisp
serifs confirm it: there’s not a shadow of doubt.
It is complete. The idea booked
between its two hinged boards.
It is immaculate.
An opening. A blank.
What’s now to do with it?