The Alchemist's Omelette
If he traces three more arcs, he will make a cat –
not a common striped creature like Arnolfini's
ginger tom – but an incandescent beast
with onyx eyes. Nim pauses, his horn-nib suspended
over the page, then inscribes two arcs
at the proper declension. The third curve tries
to draw itself. He hears the thin hiss as it sucks
at the Chinese ink, and then it crouches,
frustrated and invisible, a long quiver
in the air waiting for a weight of colour.
Around Nim, flickers prowl and growl
in unfinished flourishes, designs and devices
all requiring just one more touch suddenly
to be, to leap from some tangled dimension
into the simple now. If he closes his eyes
he can see scattered points of light.
They burrow beneath his lids and prickle
against the skin of his sight. He knows
eyes peel like onions, burst like ripe grapes.
Space, busy with nearly-but-not-quite,
presses around him with an undercurrent
of insect vibration. The sound grows louder,
breaks, concentrates into a small beat, tac
tac, the eggtooth of an unhatched chick
trying to crack its shell. The egg, that symbol
of perfection, which hangs above Piero's Madonna.
He curls his fingers around the smooth, cool concept
and smells incense. Once you are, he whispers,
you will die. Time has stronger magic than mine.
Without the last stroke, you have Forever.
The unpersuaded air tensions between chair and chair,
chair and table, like cittern strings. His mouth becomes
the hole in a sound-box, rounded by surprise
as four claws rip through incompletion like knives
through a curtain. A woman, with long chestnut hair
and skin as blue as gentian bells, is the first.
She leads a great lynx on a golden cord.
—M A Griffiths
Visiting the Surgical Ward
I come festooned with flowers, smiles and grapes,
prepared to play my part, to entertain
and act the fool, a cheery jackanapes
with jokes and japes. I know I must sustain
a jester's role and this façade can't fail
despite the rictus of a monkey grin.
Give me a short red coat that bares my tail
and I will caper like a capuchin
but better that than show the dog behind
my eyes, that blackly hunkers down and whines.
It would attack if only it could find
an enemy to bite. Instead it pines;
for neither simian nor hound can tell
if this goodbye will be our last farewell.
—M A Griffiths