The Scriv'ner
by Admiral Jota

My business chambers were on Wall Street where I kept a two-room split suite
Bordered by at either end two windows facing onto naught.
I practiced law in quiet style with three helpers all the while:
Making copies, running errands, eating ginger nuts they bought;
Half a dozen for a penny, scores of ginger nuts they bought.
But one more good scribe I sought.

At my threshold a young man stood: pale, sedate — I thought that he could
Undertake a scriv'ner's work which to him I did allot.
I set a desk behind a dark screen where he labored staying unseen,
Copying in smallest letters documents one jot by jot,
Countless letters in a crimped hand, every tittle, every jot,
Neatly and without a blot.

He stayed to work into the night, and still was there in morning's light.
No better scribe could I have asked for than the one that I had got.
All seemed well but it was not so, for there was no way I could know
How he'd answer when I mentioned that which I thought he forgot,
To check the copies with the other scriv'ners it seemed he forgot:
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

For this rude lapse each other worker did at times berate the shirker,
But I let it pass and tried to settle down their tempers hot.
Until the time he ceased from doing any work — just simply viewing
Through his window the plain bare wall of a nearby facing lot.
I gave him sheets to copy but he just looked at that lifeless lot.
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

Not long after I discovered on a Sunday that he'd hovered
In the office with a basin and a blanket from a cot:
He was content to simply dwell in that void un-homelike shell.
Bewildered then, some tender hope of understanding him I sought.
I bade him give me any of the answers that I dearly sought
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

Considering perhaps his reason for this idle act of treason,
His refusal to partake in any task at all, I thought,
“His eyes could have been somewhat dulled by the many sheets he had mulled,
And I am asking him to read and copy things that he cannot.”
I asked when he could return to tasks he presently cannot.
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

Having little choice remaining I could not yet keep retaining
Services the fruits of which would nevermore again be brought.
I approached him as he stood still, off'ring money and my good will,
But telling him that he must quit me henceforth and to leave this spot.
I was sorry but the time had come for him to leave his spot.
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

Time progressed, but nothing varied; his persistent presence harried
Me to such a point that I felt like a covered boiling pot.
`Twas he or I who must depart, so I decided to restart
My business elsewhere in a place that was with less anxiety fraught.
The atmosphere I left behind was deeply with anxiety fraught.
He said not e'en, “I'd prefer not.”

Before long a man came calling about a fellow who was stalling
With no clear purpose, or if any, this lawyer said he knew not what.
It was, of course, my erstwhile scribe who did not leave despite my bribe
And my leaving him behind: now new victims he had caught.
When they tried evict this unwished tenant they had somehow caught,
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

I returned to see him once more, found him on the stairs by that door.
To help find him some other place where he could be I dearly fought:
“Would you take on different work, tending bar or as a clerk,
Collecting bills across the land, through forest, field, green grove and knot?
Or come with me and live in my home `til we resolve this vexing knot.”
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

By this point the building's landlord called police to remove his ward
As a vagrant, to a prison, called the Tombs, so I was taught.
There he was left free to wander, but he would just stand and ponder
A tall expanse of wall that formed the edge of one small grassy plot,
I paid to have him fed well but he just turned and traversed the plot.
Quoth the scriv'ner, “I'd prefer not.”

Unhappily he waited there, expressing not a single care,
Refusing all they offered him, yet silently and standing taut.
I paid him one last visit then, to see if he'd improved, but when
I reached the courtyard where his long and solitary days he wrought.
He lay down seeming sleeping — but I realized what the time had wrought,
For the scriv'ner, he was not.

Little know I of his hist'ry; most of it is still a mys'try:
Who his family, where his birthplace, how he grew up from a tot.
Rumor only, and that fleeting, on his past employment treating,
Said that he once sorted letters dropped within the dead mail slot:
Burning letters with intended targets ign'rant of the slot.
A job wherein a soul could rot.