for Helen Suzman on her 90th birthday
The glassblower has drawn a crowd.
Like tricoteuses we sit and watch,
As the gob of glass gathers on the marble.
How fragile it seems, this hot nurturing
Into the shape he knows we cannot see.
Glass, he tells us, until it becomes
Permanent, is as hot and malleable
As a rallied crowd, molten at its edges,
Until the centre cools; its laws
And boundaries so easily broken.
How fragile are our institutions, how slow
Their flowing into life; the routes they take
Across a continent of longing: their long
Drawn out arrival; their erratic advocates;
The serious and insubstantial men:
Survival of the richest, the shallow graves,
The poor without their walls, the death of kings.
How slow the infancy of making.
Sometimes, we wonder if imagination
Must accommodate the rest.
We watch and wait and hold our breath,
At this pausable moment,
The make or break of working
Something into shape: he knows the risks,
Is lost in concentration; his breath
Becomes as fluent as the changeful glass.
And what he gives us, as he crafts
It into life, is the same benevolent
Breathing as your liberal voice,
To make a bright constituency:
A transparent jubilation, through which
We see the shape we want our lives to be;
The long, slow, rising republican note,
Unbroken, as it cools and toughens into fixidity.