Palimpsest

Fancy people know this word
And detectives —
It means a rewritten page bearing traces
Like
Life itself — breathing in, breathing out!
Always rewriting itself on the same page
You, in yourself, and in the mirror —
On your selfie
Till it’s time to tear it up or go up in smoke
Erase,

Except
For the impression you leave behind
The older other time, day, words, images, memories, meanings,
Written over
Once, twice, more
Countless times…
Till the history
It shows
Clearly in
Your face, your eyes, your voice —
The slope of your shoulders
Your gait
All those rewrites —
Truth in motion, the thriftiness of survival with a few lines drawn in as evidence —
Always breathing in breathing out
Under perpetual reconstruction
You can put up a shingle,
And so many tiresome people do!

But
Not what you thought it would be at first
Not at all, not really —
Changes, changing, changed
Same edifice, renovated, distressed, maybe missing bricks,
A definitely mutating owner
Everything turning like a carousel
Including the speed& scenery —
What you can see of it
Love, hate, betrayal, trust, success, failure, truth
Lies —
Beauty, endurance,
Age.

This one creeps up and sits on your shoulders
And the realisation that this building is never going to get done and ready
It isn’t meant to be
And what it means is unclear
Except for a palimpsest —
You can have a tracing of the last version for no charge at all
But
The one before it and before that has been subsumed
With maybe a bit missed
By the eraser —
Earlier palimpsest,
To remind you yesterday was only the last in line,
Of so many —
And sometimes
So very few
Moments
Erased before you could take it all in
Snatched away, gone to impatience
Snuffed!
Palimpsest —
A tongue word for your tongue and palate
For fancy people—
And detectives.

Detectives who pick up blank sheets from silent tables
And use a pencil to trace
Meaning
From the gone sheet above
Assuming, always assuming —
Competing with magic ink
That can come to life once, just once, with heat
But never be secretagain
But all this was before computers.

Detectives look for palimpsests on destroyed hard drives now
Picked out of garbage bins
In bits
Mangled, burnt, but yet capable of yielding secrets
Life, secrets, loot
Is not that easy to erase
Guilt, regret, happiness, inspiration
It’s all grist
To the detective
And fancy people who know words like palimpsest
and
What it means to a scroll, a leaf, papyrus
A pad, a sheet, or even a table napkin
Written upon
For the record.

Palimsests are truly for fancy people
— And detectives.

Gautam Mukherjee

By Gautam Mukherjee

Commentator on political and economic affairs

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