Two Poems

Ruth Padel

Sumatran

Watching him handle his life
as a flame-thrower
on pilgrimage
for a key geological event –

say, volcanic eruption in snow,
the frozen cocaine of church bells
giving out under ice below Reykjavik –

or let’s say he’s something more animate,
a very endangered species of tiger,
the kind that makes himself go
without silence,

not giving stillness, either, a chance
in his fire-clawed search to be loved,
crying at Disney,

not seeming always to like himself much
but giving his tiger-all
to whatever’s on hand
at the moment,

you worry,
seeing him glitter out
that ruthless innocent blaze

(does a tiger need to be moral?)
rushing at everything:
what will he have of his own
at the jungle’s end?

Arson

Appollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.275-90

The kindling of fire is always a secret. It is always lost and always has to be re-learnt.

J.G. Frazer, Myths of the Origin of Fire

He strung his bow and lifted from the quiver
an arrow he’d never shot, a messenger
of fever. Gliding up to Jason,

he fiddled till he got the arrow settled
in the middle of the string, then slowly
chasmed his hands apart and shot Medea.

She sat there stunned while Eros laughed,
flashing back from the high-roofed hall,
his arrow smouldering in her heart,

the sudden start of flame. Then her soul
gave in to its melting pain, going up
like the handful of twigs a woman nests

round a single blazing coal.
A below-the-breadline woman, straight
from fairy tale, whose task is spinning wool.

She lights her tiny fire
when she wakes on her own, in the dark,
and flames fountain from the spark

to swallow all her kindling in one go.
So Eros the Destroyer took Medea’s heart
and burnt her up in secret.