Projects: 2017 / 2016 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012

VRL Thonger

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I'll write a poem every day, might be tiny but it'll be complete.


It's almost captured

in the tomb of the Red Queen at Palenque

Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries

illuminated pages in the Roman de Girart de Roussillon

St Jerome's robe in Masaccio's painting

in a Qing dynasty lacquerware box

in luscious towers of sindoor in an Indian market.


First discovered 5000 BCE in today's Turkey

costly poisonous cinnabar's status

rose around the world – its crowning glory

the unique red calligraphy ink reserved for Emperors.

In its honour, an Empress of the Song dynasty ordered

the breeding of carp "redder than flames"

solely for the imperial family. You and I were forbidden

from keeping them: paired with a precious pigment

they were not for common eyes.


The 1600s saw a brief European heyday

their metallic scales embodying good fortune:

married men gave their wives a first-anniversary

goldfish, a symbol of prosperous years to come.

The tradition vanished as they became common –

status and rarity, both lost.


Nowadays the butt of IQ jokes, the worst

prize at the fair, swallowed live for dares

 – anyone can keep them. At the shop

the toddler's first pet wafts, one of many.

Watch, and you'll see fresh eyes seeing

what we all must have seen the first time:

the indescribable, ineffable essence

of pure vermilion.

Day 48 The colour of goldfish

I find it hard to walk past goldfish without staring.