Tantalising Flame: a Sequence of Five Poems After George Frederick Watts, by Richard Lister
You can hardly see my face.
Few do. In the labyrinth
light gutters, sound is all.
Pattering of rat and screech,
the unmarked descent of dust.
Notice my shoulder muscles:
strength that binds me,
the one gift from my one-time
father, Cretan bull. Somewhere
in me is my mother’s, human, tale.
I'll greet my … guests, seven youths
and seven maids: Athens' tribute
to our triumphant Crete. I am
too ruddy for a man, hooves set
me apart but look beyond the folds
of wrinkled skin you'll find my eye
teetering with light, and fragile lashes.
When the vigour grasps me I am not
safe, I crushed the sparrow's spine.
Don’t we all have faces best left unseen?
Will this new boat bring fear tattooed
as hate, charms sealed with spells,
warriors who'd rather stab than sit,
burn me with fire, than listen to my tale:
begat, forgot, imprisoned, real?
You object to my moustache?
Too long and hirsute for you,
you hairless runt. So bricky now,
sloshed and scammered, you’ll sober up
at dawn facing the steel of my pistol.
Lead will make you squeal.
We must appeal, the suffrage law’s
not just. We’re half blind without
women’s sight. Those who obey
the law have every right to choose
those who make the law.
They’ll listen to your petition.
Or gob on it. You’re a dreamer, Watts.
Stick to your paints and keep
your woman in hand. See this scar.
Somali javelin through my face.
Men need to lead, rein her in!
What now? Come back you fool!
Sir Richard Burton, half blocked in.
His head: a cannon ball, textured
by paler flecks. Eyes shaded, mouth
strong but sour, moustache trailing.
I could not stand his company.
After the Deluge
Spit and ashes
smut and cinders
scalded bitten gnawed
shank and chain
rich as butter
The wind tricked us.
We, who as ocean, stretched
from tropic to pack ice,
surface to light-abandoned gloom.
She spoke of things we had not
drunk or touched or smelt,
curdled us until we rose
and surged towards the east.
The seafloor climbed, imperceptibly
at first, but now at pace we’re squeezed
until we cannot keep our space
but curl, twist and breathe,
snort, stare and
thunder down our hooves,
crushed into a corner by the sky,
we pitch and thrash
and hurl our spray to drown
the beach and claim it ours
but - fall, slip and sink
into the salt-drenched sand.
Let There Be Lights
God is moving fast. Striding
through tunnels of firmament
like a coal-miner setting
charges of dynamite. Living
brave as sparks scratch at methane,
His robe flares with moonlight,
scything off galaxies in curls.
Watts has shattered the Sistine
Chapel with its coiffured God
and self-absorbed Adam,
hardly bothered to receive life.
Watts' divine has a pulse
and a pace. A day's not long
to crack the void and scatter
stars. The artist, a master
of faces, the holy and the myth,
frees his brush to paint
the unpaintable, the great
vesture into which everything
that exists is woven. Thus he casts
seeds for Kandinsky's symbols,
Vorticism's lines of speed,
Hodgkin's celebrations of the stroke,
and faith and doubt and room for both.
Richard draws you into the stories of intriguing paintings, people and cultures. His poetry is ‘a celebration of ordinary magic perceived by a keen eye’, is ‘rich in allusions and textual layers’ and is characterised ‘by a painterly touch’. Richard’s work has been carved into the Radius Sculpture, displayed at the Watts Gallery and in The Fading of the Light Exhibition and published in a wide range of international, national and local collections. He is currently working towards a collection called ‘The Edge’ which explores cultural, relationship and artistic boundaries. Richard is a Mole Valley Poet. He works as a coach and mentor for leaders across Asia, Africa and the UK. 'He certainly knows how to deliver a poem with body, soul and mind'.
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