(© Words by Paul F. Cowlan)
Out of an icy wind that scours the Rio dei Vetrai
we step in from the one-way canal
and are banked against the wall to face the flames.
We shuffle and lower our shoulders, with dry rustles of laughter.
A re-union snap of singed martyrs; hunched up, ducking our heads.
There is a chirpy commentary but no-one listens.
The ‘master’ probes the furnaces;
Broad back and gathered shoulders.
At last he turns,
a red globule pendulous on the long steel.
Elevates it like a yard of ale,
breathing till the ruby blossoms
from skewed alembic to slender phial.
Casts it aside.
Again he steps forward and draws out a folding egg,
rolling it casually, twitching at it, tugging, pinching, teasing .....
and a glass horse rears from the blowpipe;
tipped back on a flurried tail
which yields and stiffens into Venice crystal
hot enough to set a flame to paper.
He ignores our applause.
Brash webs burn in the dusk, a tangle of jewels over the canal.
Show-cases glitter with his treasures.
I want a glass pen, shaft of topaz tipped with a fluted tear,
to copy dreams onto handmade paper.
Or maybe a steed of the sun.
Stirring the bright core he conjures bowls and vases,
chandelier pendants, swans and serpents.
While the little sun-horse gleams and cools.
Promising ice and diamonds.
I half decide to ask,
circling the show-room, tempted by nothing else.
But I am too late.
In a single sweep it is through the gaping arch,
leaping the short gullet in a molten streak,
to clear hell’s shiftless stasis and merge again with fire.