‘He thought it had only been put there
to finish off th’ alphabet, like, though
ampus-and (&) would ha’ done as well.’
(George Eliot: Adam Bede)
And had in fact, for generations—
the plump, open armed ‘&’ waving goodbye
from the end of the old-world alphabet
like an innkeeper framed in doorway candlelight,
farewells swelled with hopes of come again.
Then the old world burned down
because we sensed, beyond the candle’s glow,
the road led to a dead end. No
traveler returned, even the unverified
odd reports of happy returns petered out.
So we renovated the alphabet, signing it
off with a streamlined ‘z’ as sharp
and final as lightning: no sense
in posting notice of further connections
that didn’t exist, or passing off maps as places.
Trouble was, nobody felt at home
in the revamped compound. Bookings fell off,
postcards of views of blank walls piled unsold
in the unvisited gift shop, the same
paperbacks stalled on the revolving racks.
It was a paradise of sorts, a golden age
of nullity, no relatives
breaking the costly silence. No wonder Eliot’s
befuddled Jacob Storey felt his page
of Z’s was somehow ‘not right,’ that
‘it was a letter you never wanted hardly.’
He knew, as one newly released from the unlit
cell of his long-unlettered ignorance,
what you did want hardly: you wanted,
needed—as hardly as Hetty Sorrel,
abandoned at the dock—someone to stand by.
You were the murderess of your baby,
silenced with a ‘z.’ You needed a hand,
the open-armed return of all your relations.
You wanted, harder than death, ampersand