Engineer Tippit

To us, high in our library,
once a week there came,
in his steaming, clanking, leviathanic walker,
the Cardinal’s man,
a Machinist, by rank, named Tippit.

He was so well suited,
in his hermetically capable well-stitched leather,
eyeshieldings of obsidian glass,
air filters of hydrolised heather,
accoutremented with dark silk and brass,
that you could not tell him —
without close inspection —
from one of his Lords, on a good day,
or one of his villeins, on most.

Behind his mask,
behind his suit, above his boots,
we never saw his look, his face;
he was — then — just another Cardinal’s man.

His head bowed most courteous to Hypatia
and he would never enter further than the foyer,
but still — you could hear his god in his voice
and at his side always, his weapon,
buckled in, true, holstered appropriately,
but we were all agreed —
we could see his god creeping there, as well.

Perhaps to Machinist Tippit
as his steam-powered walker-bolo cross
thundered through the night
we were not much more, even then, than lepers or lint;
but — no, that can’t be right…

For with his studied reserve and deliberate disdain,
he made such pointed and apparent effort
despite himself, that it was plain
we meant something to the man…

When he arrived on Thursdays
with his officially sanctioned,
confirmed-in-triplicate load,
Hypatia would bring him,
wonderfully crafted,
exquisitely calligraphed,
correct in every detail (aesthetic as well as technical),
a hand-written consignment note
which Machinist Tippit never failed
to impale, pointedly, on a spike,
without reading what she wrote.

The message was clear.

His vehicle was large.
It clanked. There was steam, and smoke.
His armour hard and resolute,
his raiment airtight and functional;
the new air would never get to him —

but as to the man’s inner nature,
the attitude of his soul,
the heft of his philosophy,
it probably serves us best
to return to where we began:

Machinist Tippit,
masked, armoured, hermetically sealed,
was, beyond all doubt,
and to the end,
the Cardinal’s man.

From Air for Fire

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