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 Elidius

I watched one tallying today. By the dock.

He was superb; managing three boats, five men,

with a charcoal stick against the white-washed stone.

Each of the labourers had a different pace,

doubtless intending to outwit him; he was good.

He saw, I guess, a line that no one drew,

a line for each man working. When each crossed

their line, he marked it, black on white, boldly,

dividing attention, without it slackening,

like a fisherman landing prey or guards on watch;

and at the fifth in every case, he cut

through the previous four, like one harvesting

with a scythe, in one movement which could only

be extended to mark uprights elsewhere

as fast and as dexterous as boys at harps.

Only now I think he was left-handed.

They wanted to cheat him. They didn't dare.

He took no part in further operation.

The counted sacks, crates and bottles were snatched

by other men, whom I assume owned them,

as a mouse or familiar takes what it can get.