He thought of so many ways to make this
(veined wing, weightless thing),
walked in nothingness dreaming.

Gathered and tossed stars like coins or
(gold, glass)

The stars weren’t anything.

He decided to separate first
earth sky sea land heaven air
(heavy earth, light heaven),
let them find their places 
in and round the world.

How he enjoyed the splashing sound
(azure, periwinkle, emerald, cobalt, violet, cornflower, blue)
that snaked and pooled and froze, in places, rose. 

The winds, his children, he banished each to their rooms.

The sea made fish, the air birds, the heavens gods, the land beasts
and man was moulded by Prometheus, who found in mud
flakes of scattered stars, and wetting them in rivers shaped
creatures with eyes looking upwards, who walked dreaming. 
JL Williams

from Condition of Fire (Exeter: Shearsman Books, 2011).

Reproduced by permission of the author and the publisher.
JL Williams

Poet and performer JL Williams is particularly interested in expanding dialogues through poetry across languages, perspectives and cultures and in cross-form work, visual art, opera and theatre.

Read more about this poet
About Imago

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.

Editor's comment:

An American poet who has been in Scotland a few years now, JL Williams' first collection, Condition of Fire, is a thematic book concerned with Greek myth and history. The poems are mainly short, weighed down with proper nouns (often in lists) and abstractions. I liked this poem's give and take between noun dominant sentences and verb dominant ones, and its musical listings.

Author's note:

‘In biology, the imago is the last stage of development of an insect, after the last ecdysis of an incomplete metamorphosis, or after emergence from the pupa where the metamorphosis is complete.’ Wikipedia

During my MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, the wonderful writer Elinor Brown and I decided to have a go at our own version of Ovid's Metamorphoses. While that project never quite spread its wings, my obsession with Ovid's miraculous tales of change persisted and became the basis of my proposal for the Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary. The award of that bursary enabled me to write a collection of poems on the island of Salina, one of the Aeolian Isles off the coast of Sicily. These poems written after days spent watching volcanoes erupt beneath a slice of moon, hiking through valleys of vineyards and pomegranate trees and swimming in a sea teeming with fish and jellies became Condition of Fire. Imago is my re-voicing of Ovid's extraordinary description of the creation of everything. As Wikipedia says, an imago is 'the last stage of development of an insect', and felt an appropriate title for this poem about how the world was imagined into being.