I count amphorae;
I keep track of jugs of olive oil, honey, grain and wine;
of spears, chariots, greaves and helmets.

I have also counted cattle, horses
and the fields that nurture them.

I’ve even counted people;
slaves the heady essence of whose work is in the wine;
serfs who keep their breakfasts while I their suppers, and
wage labourers who sell their grain to buy it back as supper.

I count it all and turn it into gold.
I am the original alchemist,
essayed but never equalled.
As long as I match it somewhere with a Credit,
I can Debit anything I like.
From Revenue to Asset, Asset to Equity,
the livelihood of masses rolls across my palm;
and I count them, assign them to the ledgers,
post, adjust, balance, close and summarize.

Opportunity for graft? Fraud?
Perhaps, but what I covet most
I can never embezzle:
I yearn for the giving unaware,
the rhythmic integrity of labour.
Produce and gather;
produce, refine and gather;
produce, refine, adapt and gather
simply for the joy of doing what one cannot help but do.

And so I keep accounts
on hard clay tablets, on parchment and on floppy disks.
I measure this one’s work, that one’s enterprise;
and should the profit fall to an interloper wielding spear and laws,
so much the better.
To such a one I rank among the labourers giving unaware,
and share their dignity.

© Douglas Elves

Previously published in the journal “Other Voices” and in the McGraw-Hill textbook, Work and Leisure.