By Peter Halstead

You who have supplied the key
To your own apostrophe,

Those microscopic lines
Whose fade-proof drift defines

Our standing in small doses
Of apt apotheosis,

Where the merely spellable
Is revealed to be indelible

As the fingers’ wayward flesh
Pens ball bearings to enmesh

The celestial cast of gears in favor of
These drafts of dedicated love,

Contours traced and blazed around
Seas that are by bearings bound,

That jot their i’s and cross their t’s
With the hand’s unsure geometries,

That take their waving, wandering address
From a scribble’s SOS

And chart their winding liquid plots
Around a ballpoint’s pointless blots,

Spellbound echoes that invoke us
Into never-ending focus,

Pull us from the boundless oceans (when
Authorized by a scrawling pen)—

May these unfathomable lifelines bind you with
Their rolling, calligraphic myth,

With a map of valor, grace, and charm,
Preserved by ink from time and harm.


Edward Tayler, in his Shakespeare seminar at Columbia, came to class one day with a ballpoint pen. He held it up and said, "What do you get with a Bic pen?" After a solid week of desperate guessing, the answer emerged (from him, not us): you get identity with a pen. You can write your name. We were discussing Shakespeare's play Coriolanus, where a young soldier named Marcius conquers the town of Corioli and is named for it (Coriolanus). After his fall from eminence, however, Aufidius takes his name away and unmans him, calling him "thou boy of tears."
As Marlowe's Tamburlaine says of his enemies, holding up a sword: "And with this pen reduce them to a map."
So when my friends Guy and Lori left on a book for my autograph a pen, I was amused by the contradictory hubris of its name, the Pigma Micron 05, with its tiny .45mm "permanent, fade resistant, chemically stable, pigment-based ink." A pygmy point for immortal lines. Write small, live long. Quills against the cosmos: writers in small.
Another contradiction is inherent in the pen. Discipline creates writing, which in turn conveys freedom, the opposite of discipline. Liberation emanates from the penned-up, tightly-held Bic pen; a pen is a jail, and also the means out of one's own jail. As Hamlet says, "I could be bounded in a nutshell…were it not that I have bad dreams." Dreams, escape, immortality, even libraries spring from the microscopic lines of the Pigma Micron's archival ink.
Autographs flatter the writer, certainly, often into a kind of conceit. But without reading, there would be no writing.

Tippet Alley
January 22nd–28th, 2004

Rue de Varenne
May 24th, 2005