I was in Edinburgh getting the car’s brakes fixed yesterday – you know how it goes – and while I was waiting I popped into the National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound. The smell of Glühwein and roasting sugar-coated almonds – Mandel-thingies – from the Weihnachtsmarkt was very tempting, but I was a man with a mission. For the past three years I have failed to get my act together in time to enter a poem for the annual Inspired? Get Writing competition. This year I am determined to get something written before the 22nd January deadline, so I came back to the Gallery to take notes. I know which painting it’s going to be about, and I’m not telling, so there, but before I got down to serious research (ahem, ahem) I looked round, and Rubens’ big painting took my attention. Almost before I knew it, I had written a little piece, which is not entirely suitable for the comp, but … I can still do bad taste, thank goodness.
Rubens: The Feast of Herod
The neckless head is proferred
on a salver. Herodias spears
John the Baptist’s treacherous tongue
with her fork.
Around the table all gazes lock on the king,
pensive, beard-stroking, dressed
in wolf-skin cape for European winter.
“Hmmm,” he says, “I think I’ll have the fish.”