A POSTCARD TO CLIVE JAMES
This being the National Gallery –
the jewel in the heart of London
at the centre of an extinct empire
(too early to stand on a broken arch
of London Bridge – in Arizona now -
to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's) –
the scruffy colonial doesn’t pay to enter
with obols or his soul, but the innocence
of eyes fed with photographs on screens.
Tourists moving thrombotic in clots
get in the way of masters.
near the Rembrandts - a wall of flesh
that leaves you awkwardly wondering
what to do with your hands.
Fobbing off Elizabethans and Victorians
with their lace, their sternly sentimental
knobbly physiognomies, the lapsed
antipodean student of art history
makes his way to what he’s come to see;
what he has only seen before in books
and slides shown in the intimacy
of darkened lecture theatres.
First the feast: Titian!
from his chariot, streaming rose
against vividly azure Mediterranean sky.
Draperies spill and belly like boiling water
and there, turning, clearly surprised,
but unperturbed by the glorious god,
his raucous retinue of maenads, satyrs,
and leopards, is Ariadne.
The fire of ambrosia
in the wine, the starry crown
of immortality above, surely will soothe
the smart of abandonment.
The only way to marry up from Theseus
is a slot in Real Housewives of Olympus.
Now the palette cleanser: Piero… Oh!
Christ – the closest this agnostic
atheist will come to Damascene epiphany –
like a young poplar…
A Parian column…
A perfect shaft of light like a Newman zip,
grounded in the Jordan, anchoring heaven
to earth; the still and quiet centre
of an Arno-cum-Holy Land that looks
so much like Central Otago I could cry.
Never with such hunger
or tenderness, have I ever lookedat a lover.