The O-Filler

One noon in the library, I watched a man —
imagine! — filling in O’s, a little, rumpled
nobody of a man, who licked his stub of pencil
and leaned over every O with a loving care,
shading it neatly, exactly to its edges,
until the open pages
were pocked and dotted with solid O’s, like villages
and capitals on a map. And yet. so peppered,
somehow the book looked lived in and complete.
That whole afternoon, as the light outside softened,
and the library groaned woodenlv,
he worked and worked, his O-so-patient shading
descending like an eyelid over each open C)
for page after page. Not once did he miss one,
or hover even a moment over an a,
or an e or a p or a g. Only the O’s
oodles of O’s, O’s multitudinous, O’s manifold,
O’s italic and roman.
And what light on his crumpled face when he discovered —
as 1 supposed odd words like goo and ooze,
or —joy! — oolong and odontology!
Think now. In that limitless library,
all round the steep-shelved walls, bulging in their bindings,
books stood, waiting. Heaven knows how many
he had so far filled, but no matter, there still were
uncountable volumes ol O-laden prose, and odes
with inflated capital O’s (in the manner of Shelley),
O-bearing Bibles and biographies,
even whole sections devoted to () alone,
all his for the filling. Glory, glory, glory!
How lovely and open and endless the world must have seemed to him,
how utterly clear-cut! Think of it. A pencil
was all he needed. Life was one wide O.
Anyway, why in the end should O’s not be closed
as eyes are? I envied him. After all,
sitting across from him, had I accomplished
anything as firm as he had, or as fruitful?
What could I show? A handful of scrawled lines,
an afternoon yawned and wondered away,
and a growing realization that in time
even my scribbled words would come
under his grubby thumb, and the blinds be drawn
on all my O’s. And only this thought for comfort —
that when he comes to this poem, a proper joy
may amaze his wizened face, and, O, a pure pleasure
make that meticulous pencil quiver.