The Arabs have a word for it
— they call it maqtāb —
pieces of paper that say
you are a
CEO, Field Marshal, Minister of
Shelley called them shadows
not substantial things...
Swift said they were bubbles
raised by breath of kings.

What immense power, what glory,
what awe...
buttressed by a signature and
a stamp...
...of another who holds a piece
of paper for himself.

Paper burns, paper crumbles.
Paper dissolves in water.
Or someone can tear paper
...or sign another paper that
says your maqtāb is no more.

Then boast no more your
mighty deeds*...
gather your books, your
laptop-bag, the trinkets you
have accumulated and go
home —
fallible, fallen.

*this line from Shelley's Death the Leveller.
Swift's line is from A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General.


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