Two poems: Ionian cup 570-550 BCE and Life of Art

24 October 2018

Ionian cup 570–550 BCE

I would drink from it
without second thought,
grasp its even arms
like any plastic jug, spill
it on a rug overwrought
with vines and diamonds.
I would cleanse it
like a baby in the sink,
soap and suds scrubbing the grime
and wine, honey and oil,
goat’s blood left to boil over
a heretic’s pot. I’d bring your mouth
to my mouth and taste
the iron-laced clay.
But I still wouldn’t think
how many hands have held you
or how long you waited
to be unearthed
and held again.

Life of Art

For Alan Marshall


Standing on a plinth simply wouldn’t do.
Rooted at the library doors, a book to your chest,
you greet readers with conversation
in a voice that could not be sculpted.
Bronze is a difficult medium. I recognise
your gumnut eyes, patina sleeves rolled
to the elbow, and one trouser leg pinned
at the point of amputation. You rest your weight
on a crutch and arch your neck in contrapposto
the illusion of movement that gives you life
like presence. There is no warmth to your skin.
But when people shake your hand, then
heat lingers, and your fingers branch
toward the entrance. Like a plant can sense
light and water, your body strains
for stimulus, the rustling grain of ideas.

Inside, I stroll between rows of dead names
until I find yours. I crease the novel’s spine
and smell mummified skin, a symptom
contracted from long confinement to shelves.
I press my thumb on stiff corners
and let the pages run, a warm-up
before the marathon. I leaf through years
of your life, reading how polio warped your leg
like wet paper, how your spirit learned to swim,
how a limb is not the worst thing to lose.

I sit reading for so long that my legs tingle
with guilt, and the arms of the chair
become my arms. For a moment
I feel the stiffness in your back.
My hands are as cold as bronze.
My eyes hurt from straining to read.
I know why you keep that book
close to your heart,
it makes you feel alive again.

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