Abacus

Would Leo steer his ship on the high seas and finesse the shoals of countless harbors?
Would Yuan shoulder heavy bags of cardamom to trundle through the hills?
Would merchants enter our ports and disgorge the treasures of the continents if
we could not tally their goods and slap their palms with speedy gold and copper?
Would we ever sup tea with honey or vaunt pearls on silk blouses?

Had we no answers for those who say—tell us the worth of your wares—by the bushel or the bundle,
the river of wanton adventurers who ford the streams, clear the jungle paths, and hail the housewives in cities with their precious goods
would dry up to a trickle.
They would parry bandits with staves
because they could not obtain scimitars.
And they would drop by the wayside along with half their burdens,
or stop when half the journey was done to accept a skimpier profit.

Without the teams of accountants dextrously setting the terms of trade,
our coasts would see few wanderers.
We could not taste the exotic tones of their languages on their lips,
or learn the new ways of forging metals
or hear their melismas sung in strange, beautiful modes.
We could not add their blood to our race,
or their religion to our thought.

They rarely look up, those calculators seated by their simple strung frames.
They focus their eyes on their beads from the horizon’s first light till the candles of the night burn down.
They care not for the race of the person in front of them,
nor whether his clothing is sumptuous or tattered.
They keep each man honest,
they give each sailor his due,
they multiply the wealth of states and empires,
and they spin humanity on an axis fast as the world itself.

Andy Oram
January 4, 2018

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