Charlie, who had just made up a
Showed me the last line out of the stick:
Thirty-nine silver characters
Of light ten-point Bodoni
Cryptically, negatively gleaming
In his ink-skilled, bony fingers.
Every letter counts, and every space
In mono, every comma; the chaos of literal disparity
Is neatly outfaced in every font-drawn line
Set to a measure, justified, hairspaced,
And every letter, every full-point with its shoulders,
Its own body and feet as well as a face
(And the face the slightest member of all!).
The face wears as the forme gets older;
Spaces bear faceless bodies on their feet;
Ps carry their descenders at the shoulder.
Perhaps because the naked metal
Struck awe beyond the inked impression,
It crossed my mind that Charles the comp
With knowledge, precise machining, love,
Formulae as old as Gutenberg,
Had graced the work with unsung mysteries
Tonguing the dreamings of an unseen author,
Speeding the flickering eye and brain of strangers.
I carefully reached out to feel its
Gingerly taking the metal men in hand.
I learned too late the treachery of their stasis
For they writhed away, and I was deafened
In my dumb shock by the crash of lead
And Charlie's laughter as they spilled and pied--
Thirty-nine meaningless metal matchsticks
Eluding the brain, splaying over the stone.
Gasping and stammering stupidly
(For wit is flimsy cover in this trade
For ignorance!) I fumbled with the pieces,
Trying to make amends to little Charlie
Whose chuckles only grew louder.
At last, taking the stick in hand,
Spouting comps' proverbs, darting magnetic fingers,
He had that leaden Humpty together
As fast as you or I could count the bits.