Bucchero by Helen May Williams

Bucchero

His mother at her potter’s wheel . . .
charcoal mixed with clay . . .
moulds the figure of a Kore
moulds the figure of a Kern;
applies each to the still-wet krater . . .
waits and watches it bake.

. . . Baked.

His mouth devours sweet flesh . . .
the one-handled vessel . . .
always refilled . . .
poppy-heads infused with blood . . .
black hellebore . . . digitalis . . .
deadly nightshade . . . a dull red light . . .

Her mother at the clay oven . . .
. . . charcoal for intense heat . . .
shapes cakes from the last goat’s milk,
honey and barley flour;
moulds two knob-figures on each . . .
waits and watches them bake.

. . . Baked.

She shakes the winnowing basket . . .
discards the chaff, gathers the fresh grain . . .
fresh-ground barley meal
moistened with honey
mixed with green chickpeas . . .
. . . on the fire . . . remembers the dead.

Her mother ‒ or is it his? ‒
holds out the winnowing basket,
filled with warm cakes,
white poppy-seeds, sage,
emmer-wheat, barley,
unwashed sheep’s wool.

. . . Baked.

Her mouth . . . his mouth . . .
cakes hold the fire’s intense heat . . .
layers of honey, goat’s milk cheese,
coarse pastry, cake . . . melt.
Wine . . . a fig and walnuts.
. . . the winnowing basket cradles a new-born child.

He sees: still-burning, half-baked fragments . . .
he stumbles . . . seeks the dull-red light . . .

 

*Bucchero ware—the national pottery of Etruria, of a uniform black, neither glazed nor painted, but decorated with figures moulded separately and applied to the pottery. Essentially a two-handled basket, the liknon could be used to carry anything, hence its secondary function as a cradle.

Helen May Williams is Associate Fellow in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, The University of Warwick.  She is completing an edition of memoirs by her late mother, who worked at Bletchley Park and for E.C.I.T.O.  Her poetry has been published in a number of small press publications since the late 1970s, including Hearing Voices, Horizon and Raw Edge, I Am Not a Silent Poet and the collection, Bluebeard’s Wives, Heaventree Press 2007.

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