by Geoff Page
Down below the screens and hard drives
another century is waiting,
yellowing in pigeon holes,
tied up with its rusty ribbons.
The first half of a second
is not so very different.
He takes a document at random,
a Deed of Grant on vellum,
Indian ink inscribed on calfskin,
1856 or so,
a lengthy copperplate description,
referring still to certain streets,
their names, but not much else, unchanged.
He can't quite bear to throw them out.
His father and his grandfather
had them written up. Longhand
in itself defines the law —
stylish, done without erasure.
This document's outlived the skin
of everyone who touched it.
It should go to a library
or archive up in Sydney.
Historians might take an interest
but here it stays — Memento Mori —
wills that no one can remember,
minor libels, long forgiven.
The governor of New South Wales
once set his seal and signature
upon such humble applications.
Upstairs, new clients arrive in shirtsleeves;
a clerk is keying in decisions,
reducible to noughts and ones,
thrown up briefly on a screen
then filed in cyberspace.
A copy, though, is printed off
as if to honour what’s below,
the dusty shelves of dates and papers,
those signatures with vanished fingers,
the tracery of ink on skin.