The joy of life lies in the feet,
Said Goethe, whom artisans esteem;
While on display, imperious and neat,
Pharaoh’s ibis steps into the stream.
Standing alone underneath the riot
Of tapestries that Rome’s descendants wove,
The ibis coffin poses in the quiet,
As calm as in an Alexandrian cove.
Hawks and sparrows peer from medieval walls,
Their beaks and feet entangled in embroidery;
Below the vines where faded drapery falls,
The ibis preens her plumage gilded and orderly.
Between the two crafts power is contested:
All the heraldic hounds are kept at bay,
Never to seize their Ptolemaic prey,
Her delicate claws extended and arrested.
A wariness builds between the blunt and taut,
A rivalry between the carved and flaxen —
The luster of bronze vies with the dyed and waxen,
A war between things woven and things wrought.
Blame the curators for this foreboding;
They’re gamekeepers of unintended tension
Whose creatures, perched on disparate arts, exploding
Fly upwards at the moment of suspension.