Poetry: The Book of my Enemy — The Glass Museum | clivejames.com
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The Glass Museum

In cabinets no longer clear, each master’s exhibit
Of Murano-manufactured glass has the random look,
Chipped and dusty with eclectic descriptive cards,
Of the chemistry set the twelve-year-old abandons,
The test tubes cracked, the pipette choked solid with dirt:
A work-with-your-hands vocation that never took
And was boxed away near the bottom of the cupboard
Between the clockwork Hornby and the Coldstream Guards.

The supreme exemplars, Ferro, Bigaglia, Radi;
Their prize examples, goblet, bottle and dish;
These classical clearings overgrown in a lifetime
By a jungle of tabular triumphs and tendrilled fish,
Dummy ceramics tricked out with a hand-faked Guardi,
Tubular chandeliers like a mine of serpents:
Age in, age out, the demand was supplied for wonders,
And talent discovered bravura could pay like crime —
To the death of taste and the ruin of common sense.

So the few good things shine on in the junk museum —
A dish with a milk-white helix imprisoned inside,
Miniature polychrome craters and pocket amphoras
Flambeau-skinned like an oil slick slimmed by the tide —
While more global-minded than ever the buyers come
By the jet-load lot into Marco Polo to order
Solid glass sharks complete with sucking remoras
Or thigh-high vases certain to sell like a bomb
Whether north of Bering Strait or south of the Border,
As throughout the island the furnaces roar all day
And they crate the stuff in wood wool to barge it across
To Venice which flogs it direct or else ships it away
And must know by now these gains add up to a loss
But goes on steadily selling itself down the river.

In Sydney years ago when my eyes were wider
I would shuffle the midway sawdust at the Easter Show
As the wonder-boy from Murano rolled pipes of glass
In the furnace-glow underneath a sailcloth roof
And expelled his marvellous breath into gleaming spheres
Which abruptly assumed the shape of performing seals,
Silvered inside and no heavier than a moth —
Between the Hall of Mirrors and the Pygmy Princess
Across from the Ferris wheel and the Wall of Death.