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  • By Stewart Burke

Silver Salver, Golden Chalice

Dutch still life by Abraham van Beyeren

Things first gazed upon most define our sight.

Rapt eyes are drawn to the sensuous cleft

In a musk melon of one slice bereft,

Betraying an almost carnal delight.

Suchlike, too, the furry, rose-rumped peaches,

Their sunlight concealing bloodstone within,

Honeyed secretions dripping down the chin

As if from a lover’s innermost reaches.

Snug in inset pearl and silver salvers,

To the blithe oysters it’s of small matter

That the ice is cool and lighting flatters,

For they live in the moment, these halvers.

Outermost rims of auricular plates

Sport coronets of grape leaves, both living

And smithed; figs, red and green grapes abounding

Atop Delft bowls, and wood and wicker crates.

Fruits of hot Midsummer, fruits of cold sea,

All exist for mind and eyes’ consumption,

But not the mouth: taste is our presumption,

And leaves us starving for more, constantly.

Around roemers’ stems, blackberries bestrewed,

Twin bowls filled with a vinous fruit’s remains,

Reflecting light from glowing window panes

Through which another, inverse world is viewed.

In vain reproof of gravity’s stern laws,

A lemon’s rind dangles from the precipice,

Unfurled athwart a lobster’s red carapace

And Scylla and Charybdis of its claws.

Is it day or is it night? Both? Neither?

On the timepiece, six-forty’s absolute,

Endless consecration of a minute

Captured in imagination’s ether.

Centering this universe, a chalice

Nautilus-shaped, as golden as its mean,

All mathematical mysteries redeemed

Within the dark chambers of its palace.

Next which a lewd, wreathed figure – Silenus? --

Floats bestride a covered goblet of glass,

Bearing tray aloft, if not borne by ass

Bestride which he followed Dionysus.

Just a sot when sober, yet while drunk, wise,

He thought it best never to be born,

Deeming life and fecundity forlorn

(Despite burghers need to aggrandize).

Resting on a plate precariously

Is a slender paring knife, smooth-handled,

Like an infant upon a knee dandled

Both lovingly and nefariously.

Atop the banquet board, a Persian rug

Draped carelessly but with the utmost care;

A satin cloth also frames the plates there:

All might fall with just one gentle tug.

Beyond the table, a tenter-hooked rail

From which a shroud that dims all light depends,

As if covering casket from end-to-end,

Or a widow’s face beneath a veil.

Initials carved thereon, a post rises

Behind, by artist marked lest he’s forgot

By those who came later and knew him not

Before judgement in Heaven’s assizes.

As a gesture of plenty, goblets will

Be insolently cast into the fire

As the shadows in the great hall expire

And satiety and ennui work their will.

Things last gazed upon least refine our sight.

It’s the vermin unseen that outlive us all,

Climbing on our corpses, chewing through the walls

As we wither, unblinking at the light.

Stewart Burke lives in Arlington, VA. Retired from one of those ABC agencies, beyond writing poetry he enjoys traveling abroad and studying and teaching martial arts with his wonderful daughter. He most delights in reading in translation the classical poetry of the Near East, the Subcontinent, China, and Japan. Burke particularly savors the works in translation of Li Qingzhao, Shmuel ha-Nagid, and Hafiz. William Empson and Theodore Wratislaw are two of his favorite English-language poets.

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