There was a craze for fountain pens.
Fat lacquered ones, walnut-effect, gold-nibbed,
unlocked and lifted, two-handed,
from spot-lit glass cabinets and carried over plush
by silent nail-varnished assistants
to the desk where you and your mum or dad
would have been waiting almost eighteen years,
not talking much, you worrying because the pen
you liked best was also the most expensive.
We kept their pass-the-parcel packaging,
treasured for months the slippery, important plastic bag,
the velvety plump moulded to fit our pen alone,
room underneath for two free cartridges
and an instruction manual in 14 languages, ours first,
the 12-month guarantee, as if a pen could break down,
when what we liked best was its low-tech simplicity,
that we could want a thing invented centuries before,
that it could symbolise our coming of age.
We scribbled in sepia, wrote everyone cheques
for a million hazelnuts. On birthdays
we’d crowd into the library at lunch
and watch the tip of a new pen touch its first white sheet,
the hand behind solemn and quivering, unsure
whether to doodle or draw or let the nib
try for itself, licking the page in thirsty blue-black stripes
as if it knew this was the end of freedom
and that soon it would have twisted to accommodate
each hesitation, dot and loop, its every molecule
straining with something like love as I leaned in,
imagining a future shaped by neat italics
where whatever I wanted I need only write it down.