Sidney on the Street of Knives
You, like Hephaestus, fallen and unmothered,
woke from Hope Street, Greenock in an olive grove.
He made swords and jewels for the Gods. You
took a notebook to see how words behaved.
No bare-breasted mannequins or leaping acrobats,
nor mythic beast, part-hippopotamus, part-lion –
instead three blacksmiths, Elias, Nikos and a boy
at work in a dark shop, forging scrap and iron
into the fabled knives of Crete. No street ever sounded
as italicized as yours. How you enunciate the word
– kn-i-i-i-ves – with rapture unlike any I have heard.
Steel was sparking on the carborundum wheel, setting
an edge against the tempered blade. Dionysus claimed
you for his own and on his breast your head was laid.
Lines Composed on a Carved Pew-End
August 21st 1644 was a hot day and ‘Basher’
Dowsing, Cromwell’s chief iconoclast, beheld,
as I do now, the cover of the Willoughbys’
baptismal font, pinnacles, crockets, finials,
rising heavenward like a Pope’s triple crown
topped with a gilded pelican plucking
at her breast for blood to feed her young –
and having smashed up Trimley, Brightwell
and Levington earlier that day, he told
his men to spare it from the axe.
He overlooked this carving of a woman,
hands folded in prayer over a swollen belly,
tilted a little back for balance, kneeling
in her worldliness of linenfold,
butterfly coif and wide-spanned collar
flattering her fineness among the dogs,
grotesques and bearded woodwoses.
What was she praying for? A safe birth,
a boy that has his father’s eyes
and lives? Her own sweet neck?
An artist as well as a poet, Annie Freud, is the author of three collections of poetry from Picador, The Best Man That Ever Was (2007), The Mirabelles (2014), and The Remains (2015).