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Robert Butler

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Storyboards, Illustrations, Music Videos, London, UK

Caught by catastrophe,

the flash photography of the volcano casts them

in absentia in their new roles:

the lady aristo fallen, so it would seem, slumming it in gladiators' quarters;

the doctor with his smashed chest of instruments, unable to mend his own life;

a woman with the key for a vanished door;

husband and wife coupled in distress, arguments evaporated.

The remains are on candid display, subjects of our empire of speculation

denied manumission from the past.

The others escaped earlier into the blue, vanishing into the gunny sack of history,

making their exit, shaking the goose-grey dust from their clothes and hair

like statues come to life and animatedly decamping from the gardens and squares.

Watching the ash falling, filling the streets, choking off perspectives,

the walls and towers fading into the powder-thick air.

They won't hang around for the next course:

the banquet of tephra, the scaldarium of pyroclast,

the pummelling sleep of pumice, the sulphureous aftertaste.

Forgetting the fresco walls, damp-plastered, half-painted,

the majusculed inscriptions, and the buildings

larded with the whitewash of unelected politicians.

Instead they stumble over cart-worn grooves,

scurrying past the shattered amphorae

bleeding wine into the grey ash.

And as they flee looking over their shoulders in disbelief,

then turning their backs

on the gods' kind offer of immortality

as the plume of cloud towers above the city streets,

blooming lushly upwards

into the vegetable garden of the sky.

Pompeii Alfresco