Settling accounts in cuneiform
is the work of Sumerians,
ten sacks of wheat in autumn
for two goats today.
Should retribution or betrayal
stab the soft clay, the reed
breaks in the fist of the scribe
balancing credits and debits,
destroying the ledger.
In the distance of ages
come lines gaunt in their pointed
leanings, revealing neither the source
nor reasons for their differing orientations.
It is for the scholars to reveal
what lies hidden in these ancient tongues,
much as the poets in the older ways
distant from the reader, unacquainted,
fenced off by industry and protocol
from the immediacy of commerce
speak to everyone or even perhaps
to no-one at all.