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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume One Nov-Dec 2023
Time Piece, poems by Stephen Edgar.
Female figure, Romania, 4050-3900 BC
Or—one of dozens—take this figurine,
A stylized female body of baked clay,
Incised with swaddling lines which furl
Torso and tapered legs, while, in between,
Each roundly swollen buttock bears a whorl
Stamped like a thumb print. What were they
Elaborated for? What did they mean?
In some of these exquisitely patterned sets
The women are sat down on tiny chairs
Placed in a circle. At one site,
A sort of conference of statuettes
Was found, arranged inside a bowl, which might
Depict a building. What affairs
Called them to order there? The earth forgets.
Some say that they were goddesses, and on
Their cult the culture flourished. Some demur.
Indeed, why should they represent
The clone of some Hellenic pantheon?
There is no proof. It could be they were meant
To wear a humbler character:
Toys, dolls, whose little playtime is long gone.
Experiments apparently have shown
That simply fashioning diminutive
Models drawn from the world can slow
The sense of passing time, and even hone
Perception. Did they make these forms to know
Themselves more closely, and to give
Their lives another life beyond their own
That they could stand outside of and compose,
Like gods themselves, beliefs of what is real?
If you could lift from its vitrine,
Among the clay and copper curios,
And place between your palms this figurine,
You might imagine you could feel
The pulse, almost, of still time that still flows.
Based on “At the Ashmolean” by Neal Ascherson, a review of the “Old Europe” exhibition
at the Ashmolean Library, Oxford, London Review of Books, 5 August 2010.
The Long and the Short
In the event, however, it was brief.
Causes there were, and reasons, decades long,
That claimed him like a corporal belief,
A siren song
That must have started calling him way back,
Back in the war. But in the end, at least,
Only an hour or two from the attack
Till his heart ceased.
But her, felled by a stroke, as we assume,
We watch her blank eyes wander as she seeks
Some terrifying question through the room,
For five long weeks,
But does not die. And still she will not die.
Oh she will live, despite what living means,
And is condemned to go on living by
Her mindless genes.
The scrub stands back and there: the river tosses
Its megalitres down in a double flow
Divided by a clump of green,
Plaiting its losses
While plunging, like a crocheted guillotine
Unravelled in the pool below.
Neither before nor after. Even then,
Outlasting all the futures you might call
And spread out like a mappemond,
When nine or ten,
And those to which no dream could correspond,
Too far to picture or forestall;
And even then, back past the most remote
Sand-flooded dynasty, or finger joint
Appended to prehistory’s page
Like a footnote—
The headlong and perennial haemorrhage
Cramps those perspectives to a point.
Like gravity made visible, and time,
It sweeps your mind and sight from the gushing summit
To dash them in that haze of spray,
From which they climb
Again, again, and cling and fail to stay,
Dragged down in the relentless plummet.
But if you concentrate and on one square
Of water fix your vision and attune
Your focus there, it seems to slow,
Woven on air
Almost, almost to float, and float down so,
Clear as that feather on the moon.
© Stephen Edgar
Stephen Edgar’s latest book, Ghosts of Paradise (Pitt Street Poetry), has just been published. He has published twelve previous collections, the most recent being The Strangest Place: New and Selected Poems, which won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry, in 2021. His previous three books, Transparencies, Exhibits of the Sun, and Eldershaw, were all shortlisted for the same award. He was awarded the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature in 2006 and was joint winner of the Colin Roderick Award in 2014 for Eldershaw. He lives in Sydney.