The abecedarian is an ancient poetic form guided by alphabetical order. Generally each line or stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and is followed by the successive letter, until the final letter is reached. The earliest examples are Semitic and often found in religious Hebrew poetry. The form was frequently used in ancient cultures for sacred compositions, such as prayers, hymns, and psalms. There are numerous examples of abecedarians in the Hebrew Bible; one of the most highly regarded is Psalm 118 (or 119 by King James numbering). It consists of twenty-two eight-line stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Chaucer‘s “An ABC” is an excellent medieval example of the form. He crafted his translation of a French prayer into twenty-three eight-line stanzas that follow the alphabet (minus J, U, V, and W).

So…here goes…


Criss-cross patterns
on your thigh
mimic rope indentations;
each line intersecting, purple and deep.

When you undress
in the evening, I run
this inventory, a
hungry inspection of your skin;

mostly creases left by clothing, I eye
each curve of each bone

and each muscle;
nothing left unseen.
Digging under covers,

between limbs, my fingers become my
eyes, tracing fading rivets and lines

made by the day.
You tell me what happened at work, and I

listen, intent
on your words but
engrossed by the map of your skin.

Julius Reque – Man Undressing


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