for Ian Patterson
Hearing of molten rock which fell to mountains,
meeting with three-faced statues on the beaches,
returning suddenly to the fact of marble
on sand dunes where the wind whips round my ankles,
we honour sculptors of these sacred places
whose sculpture marks the limits of our honour.
Once the gods were worthy of our honour
keeping to hidden pathways in the mountains
they spoke through fields of fire in certain places
and met with mortals. On these blackened beaches
the goddess held Achilles by the ankles
and he grew god and knew it, strong as marble.
Who poets sing of, sculptors wrest in marble –
the god’s own likeness people likewise honour
and tie their sacred garlands round his ankles.
Yet even these strong gods into the mountains
fled when men with strange nets on their beaches
landed and raised to earth their temple places.
And they erected churches in their places
from broken stelae, culled from purest marble.
The people gathered on their sunburnt beaches
and came to pay the pantocrator honour –
though some remembered old gods in the mountains
and wept to tie their garlands round his ankles.
And some believed the nails had pierced his ankles
and not his hands or feet. In certain places
where sea and sky are met and in the mountains
the people came again to trust in marble
and golden garlands – though there are some who honour
the god who walked among them on the beaches
and still he walks. Now, far from these beaches,
a sculptor carves a boy with powerful ankles
in animal lines. The people come to honour
the blood-red stone, and in these white washed places
the live stone falls again through art to marble –
the gods shall not return now from the mountains.
Can we call this honour? Venerating marble,
washed up on the beaches, or fallen in the mountains
wading in these places, the wind around our ankles.
Lipari, Lent 2015.