The Ladder

He worked years on the tablet,
deciphering the pictographs. He knew
it was a kind of language, those images.
An eye. A bird, maybe a crow.
A basket of wheat. A ladder.
Did the order of the images matter?
He cross-referenced similar texts.
He studied the history of the region
and satisfied many hours in the tablet's service.
In a cousin language, a ladder
was the word for happiness, to rise up,
to be lifted above the ordinary.
After years of work, he sorted it out.
It was poetry, bad poetry, adolescent:
"Today, I am happy,
happy all this day, today."

Michael Chitwood, "The Ladder" from Living Wages. Copyright © 2014 by Michael Chitwood.  Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.
Source: Living Wages (Tupelo Press, 2014)
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