Fifty years ago the garden of what is now
our house was five times its present size –
a garden that had been a field, and a heath.
A builder turned an orchard, borders
and most of a lawn into three modern
terraced houses and eight lock-up garages.
Part of what remained of the lawn was a dump.
Occasionally odd things still turn up –
like bits clinker, rusted iron, and, today,
a small piece of coal, of anthracite,
its planes and angles glinting like lightning
in the blackest of skies as I hold it up
to show my ten year old granddaughter.
‘What’s this, do you think?’ ‘Obsidian?’ she says.
‘It’s coal,’ I say. She looks at the geometry
of its blackness with the wonder I would feel
if I were to see obsidian. Seeing
my face she helps me with my homework.
‘It’s black volcanic glass. And in Minecraft
the Nether Portal is made from it.’
Plato maintained that the structure of the world
was cuboid. According to the elder Pliny,
Obsidius, an explorer, discovered
the sable glass in Ethiopia,
and was impressed by its sharp rectangles.
Stone age peoples made it into arrow heads,
who maybe believed in that portal,
through which Persephone and Orpheus
separately, reluctantly, descended – each returning,
one with glory, one with remorse. And I think
of the others, unnumbered, getting the coal
this child of the future has marvelled at,
coal that has set fire and water at odds
to envelop the world, rendering it
all desert or ocean.