Etra spread his arms and pulled everything close. The mix of shapes tumbled over one another and he reviewed what he had made this week. There were many different pieces, some large and others barely noticeable. All were of his hand. Etra smiled. There was a profound beauty in the material he used, though many people would never notice. It took a lot of looking to see it. With the softer, more colourful pieces the building blocks were somewhat more self-evident, but even the most angular of pieces were made of the same rounded grains, finer than dust.

The versatile material gave Etra such endless ideas – many of which he pursued to production – that he truly deserved his fame as the greatest artist that ever lived. Indeed he was noted as the material’s inventor, and had many flocking to him to enquire about it. So far he had shared only some of the secret.

From his pile, Etra selected a small roundish piece and rolled it between his fingers, feeling its rough edges and darting his eyes between its many bubble-like craters. It was a piece he titled rock. Next he picked up a small cloud, a single ashy white piece. It was very light to hold.  And the name was perfect for the pieces in this series. Some were grey and anvil-shaped, others barely a film of streaks. This one was rather like a sheep. Etra wanted people to see the clouds, as there was one to please everyone’s eyes. Nevertheless, many of his works would not be seen by the world. Still he made them. He brought the cloud close to his nose.

“Art.” Etra said, with a satisfied sigh.

Such a simple word. He turned the piece over in his hands. It was full of technology, mixing different types of fine round grains and having properties to perplex and intrigue the scientific community. Art.

He held it a while longer, allowing his thoughts to drift to the places the piece would go after he sent it out. His work was already renowned worldwide, from bustling cities to the remotest pastoral hillside. Indeed the tiny clouds were some of the most popular. Etra placed this one back in the pile and surveyed the rest of the collection. It included a new batch of his microscale animated pieces, ready for distribution ahead of Christmas. Each one of those was particularly fine, crafted with careful attention and concentration. Such special pieces.

Some of the special pieces were destined for recipients on summertime beaches, some to wintery forests, and others across the equator where no bells jingled. Some were going to the Mediterranean, where sea pebbles crackled and the evenings were warm. Etra thought about his son, and leaned back. He remembered the days in the dust and heat, and the bright starry skies of the night. The only sounds they had enjoyed then were the dull goatbells and the occasional hoot of an owl. They were difficult times. But they had been Together, ever yet creating the art. It was no longer work. It was rest. And art. It was good. Life. Newness. A sense of the world changing, growing. The passing of things into time.

Oh, Ichabod

Cf. 1 Samuel 4.Israel, having ignored God and his warnings, nevertheless attempted to use the ark of his presence to their benefit. He had, however, left already. Old fat Eli and his idolatrous sons died, and his daughter-in-law went into labour and died from the trauma. This is a poem for that child in the wake of tragedy, whose mother pronounced the truth of it all.

Ichabod (Hebrew: אִיכָבוֹד‎, ikhavodno gloryinglorious or “where is the glory?”)

Oh Ichabod, your mother is dead.
And your grandfather has fallen.
And your father, and his brother,
dishonourably dischargèd.

You are firstborn in the gloryless land,
and the idolised ark has gone
to Ashdod with the coastal men,
and God has dealt his hand.

Oh, Ichabod, weep, as Dagon bows.
Your mother saw it first.
And now you face the stark unveiled
reality of Israel’s broken vows.