(In the bureaucratic society of imperial China

jobs in the postal service required a respectable

essay on the Classics and a conventional poem.

Tu Fu, Li Po, Po Chu I, and Su Tung Po,

formidable poets, bureaucrats one and all.)

Anemic rays of morning sun filter through

iron-barred skuzzy windowpanes,

flies of summer no longer buzz, scattered

on a sill, casualties of a forgotten war.

Dust motes hang in the air lit by a pale

gold light, tarnished clock hands lumber

toward the meridian, somber shadows engulf

an infinity of space within metal-grey walls.

In days that never end, dutiful clerks like

trustees at Sing-Sing and Dannemora cross off

the calendar as if they were locked in a solitary cell.

In a slow step-dance clerks stuck in monochromatic

quicksand stick and stamp a monotonous flow

of envelopes and boxes murmuring a one note tune of:

“next please?”

Star-spangled workers can’t see beyond the sword of Allah

when a turbaned Sikh sporting a long black beard signs on,

sorting the mail while muttering sacred prayers in a soft

guttural moan.

Apathetic clerks suddenly galvanize, clamoring:

“Take that towel off your head Ali Baba!”

They blame him and all who smell of Yak milk, cardamom,

saffron and curry for Islam’s duplicity.

Wondering why his Karma has gone awry, he dreams of Punjabi

days, galloping forward like his grandfather at Gallipoli, a fierce

warrior on Black Saladin, brandishing a two-edged sword,

a scimitar clenched between his teeth.

Illuminated from within by resentment he choreographs a fantasy

of operatic grandiloquence, slaying fellow workers, a Sikh Khalsa

soldier, a black lion sworn to Granth Sahib, savoring the sweetness

of revenge, a bloody monument to immortality in a galaxy

of extinguished stars

Milton P. Ehrlich 199 Christie St. Leonia, N.J. 07605