The O-Filler
-Alastair Reid

One noon in the library, I watched a man--
imagine!-filling in O's, a little, rumpled
nobody of a man, who licked his stub of pencil
and leaned over every O with a loving care, 
shading it neatly, exactly to its edges,
until the open pages
were pocked and dotted with solid O's, like villages
and capitals on a map.  And yet, so peppered,
somehow the book looked lived in and complete.

That whole afternoon, as the light outside softened,
and the library groaned woodly,
he worked and worked, his o-so-patient shading
descending like an eyelid over each open O
for page after page.  Not once did he miss one,
or hover even a moment over an a,
or an e or a p or a g.  Only the O's--
oodles of O's, O's multitudinous, O's manifold,
O's italic and roman.
and what light on his crumpled face when he discovered--
as I supposed--odd woords, like zoo and ooze,
polo, oolong and odontology!

Think now, in that limitless library,
all round the steep-shelved walls, bulging in their bindings,
books stood, waiting.  Heaven knows how many
he had so far filled, but no matter, there still were
uncountable volumes of O-laden prose, and odes
with inflated capital O's (in the manner of Shelley),
O-bearing Bibles and biographies,
even whole sections devoted to O alone,
all his for the filling.  Glory, glory, glory!
How lovely and open and endless the world must have seemed to him,
how utterly clear-cut!  Think of it.  A pencil
was all he needed.  Life was one wide O.

Anyway, why in the end should O's not be closed 
as eyes are?  I envied him.  After all,
sitting across from him, had I accomplished
anything as firm as he had, or as fruitful? 
What could I show?  a handful of scrawled lines,
and afternoon yawned and wondered away,
and a growing realization that in time
even my scribbled words would come
under his grubby thumb, and the blinds be drawn
on all my O's.  And only his throught for comfort--
that when he comes to this poem, a proper joy
may amaze his wizened face, and, O, a pure pleasure
make his meticulous pencil quiver.