Bob Ward
Two Signatures

John Shepherd’s his name
    but he has no truck with sheep.
1797 Leeds: dressing a raw weave
    into finest woolen cloth a quality
    hand might shed a glove to smooth
    – that’s where the money sits!
A bale is thumped aside, today’s
    document spread out for signature
    and witnessing; three men crowd a boy.
The Master reads his terms, no malice:
    first year – six shillings a week,
    on duty fifteen hours a day
    (no payment due when sick),
    notched up one shilling annually
    through seven dogged years.
“There!” He distorts his finger-tip
    in the blank space bottom right.
So gripping an un-practiced quill,
    the teazel-boy stutters out a cross
    upon the paper, and thereby binds himself
    to the lifelong mystery of cloth.
The merchant deliberates his turn;
    he inscribes ‘Benjamin’ and ‘Gains’
    as escorts either side the mark,
    then after loosening his cuff
    he unfurls his perfect signature
    upheld by sideways loops, drawn surely,
    that swoop to a final twist,
    a lift and two stub strokes.
    another apprentice trotting at his heels.
Foxed and cracking in the folds
    that paper served a turn tucked
    so securely in the family Bible
    which connects me to Ben’s empty cross,
    while the phantom at my shoulder now
    would commandeer what I write . . .

But I need not let him.

Bob Ward, Two Signatures, photograph, 2005