Sunday, 26 October 2008


After my recent visit to Naples, I wrote the following poem. I was fascinated in the plaster cast figures of the victims, created by Giuseppe Fiorelli and his team who mastered the technique of pouring wet plaster in to the cavities left behind in the compacted ash.

The Plaster Cast Figures of Pompeii

The method of taking plaster casts…was introduced at Pompeii by Giuseppe Fiorelli, director of excavations between 1860 and 1875. It involves pouring liquid plaster into the cavity left in the compacted ash by the body of the victim.
Pompeii, Pier Giovanni Guzzo & Antonio d’Ambrosio

A glut of hydrocal pipelined to the heart
of an air gap – a body of air,
confined for two thousand years,

or perhaps not air at all
but what remains when cell matter
is sealed, locked into the strata.

From a hairline crack
drawn across a bed of ash,
to a chiselled hollow, to this,

this moulded form, this human fossil,
remade, remodelled, real as flesh.
A cart driver, parodied by the absence

of a mule, is cast in his final act,
and might be praying in that fragmentary pose,
having let go of the trace, his hands

bound palm to palm and lifted up to his head,
his head bowed down to his hands.
Further along, a dog flips back

on itself as if upended or leaping
to catch a ball - hind legs playfully foetal,
open mouthed to the possibility

of a last bark. A second human figure lies out
on a slab, appears to smile like a groom
in the milliseconds before a post nuptial headshot.