Two Poems

Ronald Gaskell

Birth of a Philosopher

Plato was a young man when Helike
sank below the waters of the gulf.

The spasms of the earthquake
could be felt all night, tugging at the roots
of the city. For three days afterwards
the ground subsided – rapidly at first,
then gradually, caving and collapsing
as if hauled by an enormous hand. Temples
toppled, others sagged beneath the inrush
of the waves.

           Soon
tourists began to arrive from Corinth,
even from Plataea, Athens, Thebes,
to gaze at streets and squares below the clear
new lake.

          Attention
was particularly gripped – sceptics and the pious
naturally offering different explanations –
by the great bronze statue of Poseidon,
beard just breaking the surface,
which a shoal of mullet had already started
to explore.

Quarry

In the hills of Naxos
neglected, perhaps unseen
for 2000 years

lies a stone god:
a fragment
prised from the mountain.

The head
can be recognised as a head
by its emergence

from the massive torso,
arms and chest
unshaped;

the thighs
founder into a jumble
of smashed rock.

When does rock
become stone? when does
the hewn stone

find itself a god?
When we stand it upright
on a plinth inscribed

Apollo
Thor, Mithra, Tlaloc
Vishnu, Amun-Ra?