We lived on the medieval coast
south of warrior kingdoms
during the ancient age of the winds
as they drove all things before them.

Monks from the north came
down our streams floating that was
the year no one ate river fish.

There was no book of the fores,
no book of the sea, but these
are the places people died.

Handwriting occurred on waves,
on leaves, the scripts of smoke,
a sign on a bridge along the Mahaweli River.

A gradual acceptance of this new language.

A village of stone-cutters. A village of soothsayers.
Men who burrow into the earth in search of gems.

Circus in-laws who pyramid themselves into trees.

Home life. A fear of distance along the southern coast.

Every stone-cutter has his secret mark, angle of his chisel.

In the village of soothsayers
bones of a familiar animal
guide interpretations.

This wisdom extends no more than thirty miles.
author's page
back of the book
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    Excerpted from Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje. Copyright © 2000 by Michael Ondaatje. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.