VANITAS

                Jan Jansz. Treck
                (1605/6 - 1653)


Among other code-objects for the ephemeral
he included a half-clothed figure drawn
who knows? by himself, perhaps a self-portrait,
crumpled. One corner, caught in a well-thumbed book,
hangs over the table-edge wrong way up.

A skull on its side could if fleshed again
identify laughter or a scream for help.
Wisps of grass, dry as the bone they coil round,
hint at a mock-crown plaited for a fool.

An hour-glass unable to turn sand into time
lies like the skull abandoned, a recorder
slanting between glass and wood.
No-one will come to play that violin either
or pick up that reed to make soap-bubbles
gleam briefly, fragile in sunlight, then burst.
One shell placed on a tattered score
holds silence like a hand held out palm upwards.
No music for eternity. No hiss of falling sand.

A clay pipe's stuck in the visor of an iron
helmet worn maybe by the skull long ago
assisting some pointless battle.
That little treasure-chest looks locked
and who's to open it? Who'll wear that costly
length of silk or ever read those documents?
Nothing at least can get any dustier.

The wall behind is empty and dark brown.

Nothing but shadow shows under the loaded table.

 



EFFIGY

               
St. Blaise, Haccombe

The face looks too old for sixteen -
not carefree or alert - plagued with
grown-up concerns he never lived
to learn. He's lost the sword he wore -
unswished in battle, only used
to scrape along his teacher's blade,
make silver sparks to vanish in
a flash of time. War practices.
Boar-hunts and banquets. Prayer and sleep.

Though lying down in death he stands
in alabaster on a hound
who peers up, doesn't seem to mind
his master's non-existent weight.
Two angels flank the head though show
no interest in a subterfuge.

This replica - a sturdy boy
who died too young too many years
ago - held a likeness lost for
his familiars till the fake corpse
got shipped beyond the grievers to
a future chipped and casual, eyed
by strangers sometimes in a place
admittedly he worshipped in
while he not here nor anywhere
is present somewhere we can't know
or guess at (with perhaps his dog).




ASTRONOMY ONE APRIL

Lined up about five inches long along
a dark blue urban sky the backward C
of a coming moon hangs between two still sparks
unblinking
               one's identifiable as
Venus, always alone, untended, cloud-
wreathed (on one December just a tiny
crescent traced scurrying behind
a full moon, in transit)
                              the other's
Jupiter. By telescope at school I'd
scanned this gas-giant with his retinue
of satellites (some west to east
some widdershins, sixty-four at the last
count, they're finding circlers almost
every decade now). I couldn't pinpoint
that scarlet storm at work for centuries
with winds of blood hundreds of miles an hour -
or what would measure time or length up there.

They flank a sliver like a pale nail-
paring, gold yet ice-clear. No other celestial
body visible. No meteors streak
this chill spring evening as omens for this
or that. You aren't supposed to glimpse new
moons through glass but I'm myopic. With
no lenses stars are blurs of yellow. Still,
night-times are getting brighter now
maybe for you and me, who knows.
                                               So
lovely those three space-denizens placed
as a triple pattern untold distances apart,
soon to re-take up their wayward wandering,
never to be discerned again in quite
the same precise design as long as time
lasts, like a blade of grass, foam on
a breaker, oakleaf, snowflake, any human face.





LANDSCAPE THROUGH HAIL

                                         
for Lynn

Four minutes and the path was white while
fresh grass and the odd frail daffodil
hissing under hail guarded their green
and yellow. Tall slopes to either side
of this river-valley faded, veiled
by a chill descent continuous
in no wind. Far fleece of budded trees
gone subtly grey (a lighter grey than
the sky) like a photograph taken
elsewhere by some long dead relation
and lying forgotten in a clasped
leather album. Our boots crushing small
ice-pearls left prints hastily filled up
by the pelting fall. It would be hard
to track us, even prove we'd been here.
Nothing to conceal. Only to make
less definite. We formed a centre
moving through the same blurred constancy -
a scene by Hokusai with English
alders. All changed. Unreal. A cold
gauze curtain drawn across everywhere.
The frozen path veering from swirling
water - still black, absorbing the drop
of pellets as if they didn't count -
came to an end leaving uncertain
distance beyond the branches to blend
the hail reluctantly with farewell.


         Harry Guest 2014