Flame Eater

by Sue Davies

Padua, 1609

His shopping list on the back of a letter takes us
back to a time when the world was motionless –

the sun, in earth’s sphere, crabbed its latitude
like a dog in skirts tottering on its hind legs.

Fairies, decked out in mothy wings, flounce
into the ring, reminding him Little Vincenzo

needs slippers and wife Marina is bound to beg for
new plates to perfect her juggling and spinning.

Pepper, cinnamon, cloves, jams and raisin-spelt
he lists as a matter of urgency for trapeze artists

who leap under the cool canopy like fleas,
blood-spots dancing before his eyes as sunrays

snipe through the pole-hole at pitifully chained bears,
whipped to staccato rhythms of Vincenzo

practising the scales. Don’t lift your fingers Vincenzo,
slide! And remember the foot pedal!

Amid the din of rehearsals, he remembers to order
artillery balls, tin pipes for clowns, not forgetting

cart-loads of hay for prancing horses. Listen here!
Listen here! he cries in the ring, tailcoat trailing

sawdust, proof smouldering under his hat,
I have made a discovery to put an end to tyranny!

The sun is fixed in the heavens. It is the earth that spins!
Truth, like oxygen, fuels bright flames from Galileo’s mouth.

The people rise and applaud, whoop and dance.
The new moon and tides bear witness.