On and Off the Wall

by Wendy Klein

Though the death world claws at everything
it will not touch her
(Callimachus, active 432-408 BC)

It might have been a drowsy summer afternoon near Alexandria;
the click and buzz of cicadas, the hum and tumble
of bees sated with rosemary and thyme,

balancing on cistus stars. He might have sheltered under
a Mediterranean oak, scrumped a fig or two
from an open garden bordering on

the burial ground where he’d come to peruse headstones.
On the lookout for shapes to sculpt in marble,
his journal describes how he noticed

a votive basket placed on the cared-for grave of a young girl —
a few of her toys tucked inside — a cloth doll swaddled
in lace, eyes stitched in sleep, lashes dark, feathery.

Someone had covered it with a tile to protect it, but leaning close,
he would have observed the way a plant had grown
around it, twining the spines of its jagged leaves

alongside the pattern of the weave. A lesser artist might have
moved on, musing on the death of a child so young,
but Callimachus began to dream the capitals

of columns rising high; high as the roofs of temples. Think
how he might have stroked the spiny leaves in wonder,
traced the foetal curl of the flower spikes,

already longing to return to his easel to realise the design. And time
would pass, as time does, the columns, their leafy crowns,
would erode with heat and age.

Under centuries of afternoon sun, acanthus would stretch out
serrated blades to slash at passing limbs, pink, summer-
bare, before Will Morris, brooding, bilious, lingering

in a neighbour’s cottage garden, tugging at his shaggy beard,
would begin to make links with Corinthian columns;
would conjure cloth, wallpaper; rugs.