In the beginning, universe was, and inside that,
galaxy was, and as many stars as grains of sand
and in amongst this, a planet with its mineral crust;
then humans came, began scooping up wet clay,
rounding it into the size and shape of cupped palms,
drying it under the sun. Then came wheels and kilns,
and it was found that ashes of a fire could turn to glaze,
and it seems no time at all until that moment
when you made this globe of a pot, dipped it
in the deep green glaze, and then the paler one
that crystallizes on the deep and shining surface,
making specks of white like s sprinkling of stars;
thicker and more grainy round the dark neck
of the pot where they’re clustered like a galaxy.
Postcard from Japan
You send me a drawing from the fifties
(a man pummelling clay) from the village
where you’ve just spent the day
with the master-potter you first met
in Scotland, when he and his translator
wandered into your pottery. That evening
he made on your wheel the dimpled jug,
the flower-shaped bowl I held in my hands.
You’ve also met a family of potters who
‘go back with their kiln a thousand years’
and whose ancient pots are still in daily use,
handled carefully not just because they’re old
but out of reverence for the ancestors.
How time and distance fold themselves up,
so I am with you in Japan, and you
are moving in amongst those generations
of people like the master-potter’s grandmother
whose black and white photograph he found
as an illustration in the battered book
that sits on the shelf of your kiln-room.
after Grete Marks
How the shape of it, like two spheres
melded, one above the other, resembles
the roundness of a body; and how
you want to curve your palm over it,
feel the smooth clay, a sea-green glaze
brush-splashed with rust-red;
to finger that crescent moon handle,
or blow softly over the opening,
hearing the song of your breath
inside the hollows of the vase
whose walls contain invisible air
as the body holds the soul.
And then recall how Goebbels saw it:
queer-looking, foreign, made by a Jew.
Degenerate. Containing nothing.
Eighty years or so later, another potter
will take the ashes of a man he mourns
and fold them into the clay of a jar;
and looking at this perfect sea-green,
rust-red vase, you think of all the ashes
that it might contain: those of the burned
books, the burned paintings, those of the
people not seen as intricate vessels
containing their own particular selves,
but only as degenerate pots,
not to be held or lovingly touched,
but only to be smashed to bits.
Inside the gallery, density
of bronze, marble, burnished wood
and a huge white plaster shape:
through its oval spaces, a window
and the river’s sheen as it smoothes itself
over the weir; then tumble and bubble
and rush, quiver of water and light,
stand solidly over the river view,
their hollows containing, as well as air,
and their own scooped-out places
of silence and completeness,
all the dash and flitter of water,
its velocity, fluidity, transparency.
after Jane Rushton
It’s she, this unknown Inuit woman,
who inhabits the painting, whose words,
seen faintly as if under ice, are visible or
invisible through lines of pale blue-greens,
shadowy cloud shapes floating like ice floes
and small squares of a cold, sea-greenish white:
colours of Greenland, beneath whose surface
language hovers, the ghost of her poem,
of her sea and river, wind and sky, the things
that encompass her, make her tremble with joy.
You do not need to know why or who or where from,
only that there were ten dozen duck eggs on our doorstep.
They are layered in trays made of soft blue cardboard,
the colour of sugar paper. I place the heavy, fragile tiers
on the floor, then the table, move them from room to room,
letting the morning or the evening light halo them,
cast their shadows onto one another. They become
a presence in the house. I love their magnitude,
their plenty, the rows and rows of them,
the different ways of ordering and counting them.
Their ranks of sameness, and their slight differences.
I run the back of my hand over their smooth cold nubs
or hold them in my palm, as if this is what it was made for.
Eventually I start giving them away. I give half a dozen
to the neighbour’s boy who bakes us cookies in return,
I give some to a man I vaguely know wheeling his bike up the hill,
I give some to the woman who comes to borrow the car,
to the person whose mother knows where they came from.
We begin to eat them: I make a duck egg omelette,
a lemon cake with duck eggs, we boil and poach
and scramble them. Now there are only four left.
I don’t want to use them, I want to keep them
on this windowsill and gaze at them each day –
their lovely shapes, the ovals clear and pure,
as if they were holy, made for ritual; the way
their shells in places are pinkish, like the blush
on white roses, which must come from the yolks
because blown, they’re an almost bluish white;
and the way they are contained and unassuming,
holding inside themselves a freight of possibility.