My name was – What does it matter?
– Paulus Silentiarius

It would happen so easily. The harassed mason,
busy elsewhere, leaves a small job of lettering
to his journeyman. Nothing elaborate,
no bigwig’s lengthy encomium; the master
would have seen to that himself. Five words,
a modest inscription for a modest stone.

And besides, what could go wrong? The fellow
is a good hand enough, and he has only
to follow a template. Which he does,
exactly, so that his master, returning,
reads, chiselled clear and strong into the stone,

“Here lies the body of the boy [Insert
Name Here]”. The mason is first speechless,
then all too voluble, but when he has cursed
himself calm, he admits the fault was his:
he should never have assumed the man could read
those shapes his eye followed so faithfully.

And now, what is to be done? A spoiled stone,
even so humble a one, is a heavy loss.
His clients can read Latin no better
than his craftsman; what they need in their grief
are the magic marks that say, at least to them,
that someone missing was once here.


Sheenagh Pugh has spent most of her life in Wales but now lives in Shetland. Her current collection is Short Days, Long Shadows {Seren 2014).


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