Saturday, May 07, 2011

Poem: "Pilgrim Flask"

For the Massachusetts Poetry Festival (next Saturday, people, in Salem), I have been asked to write an ekphrastic on an artefact from the Peabody Essex Museum. I wrote on this blue and white porcelain flask.

(Image from the Peabody Essex Museum website)

Pilgrim Flask

Here we have thirst
And patience, from the first
—Marianne Moore, “An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle in the Shape of a Fish”

Ming Dynasty export to Spain, which sailed
or rode the longest overland trade route
to come to rest on its one spreading foot,
on a sideboard or centre mantelpiece,
the coat of arms a country’s golden age,
silver harvested from deep American mines,
spices ferried back from the Philippines,
this bottle makes a beautiful wedding gift.

Please take it, sister, though it’s eight years late.
I could not give it earlier. Away
from home, I was studying to be a poet.
Angry, too, when your faith didn’t accept
the fact that I am gay. Time has returned
material fact back to a means of faith.
A thing of cobalt blue and lotus white,
this old fortune recalls an older form.

Inflated goatskin on the saddlebags,
it saved a restless man dying of thirst.
For the faithful, the clay ampulla held
the holy olive from the healing shrine.
Please take it home and put it on display,
this worldly relic, this ceramic camel.
No saints, but we ride on a pilgrimage.
No water, but we hold on to the flask.

for YP

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