Before Paper

Before paper, everyone spoke in rhyme or else you’d forget what was on your grocery list.  You’d go out to buy a hat and be forced to buy food for a cat, even though you only had a pet mouse to keep you company in your house.

Before paper, babies were given very short names like Bob and his sister Bab, and Tom and his sister Tam. Their parents never considered a name like Robert or Barbara because it was much too long for anyone to remember, and way too hard to rhyme.

Before paper, poets were highly honored.  They would create long elaborate rhymed verse but they would never write it down because there was no paper.  They would create it while walking through summer fields of oats and barley or while watching snowflakes drift from the shivering trees onto the frozen dirt. The words would appear in their heads as sounds, like bird song or footsteps or the tiny squeaks of small rodents, but they would be bigger than sounds, they would be words, forming in the poet’s mouth, something sweet like summer stone fruits, tiny cherries or juicy Santa Rosa plums.  The sounds would become a chant, a song, a story, a history of a people, a people without paper.  A people of sounds and promises and spirit.

Before paper, the poets would remember the stories and were honored for doing so.  The warriors/conquerors/kings were afforded the highest honors, but the poets came next.  The warriors were allowed to wear six colors at any given time, and the poet could wear five.  The warriors could eat the breast of the turkey, and the poets could have the drum sticks.  The warriors could drink four glasses of wine, and the poets could have three. The poets didn’t mind.  Sure, they were second best, but their job was neater. They were able to keep their hands clean and their limbs intact.

Before paper, the trees felt very safe.  And the poets knew them each by name.

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