1875 c/o Chrissy Williams

Salt on his lips, porpoise oil slicking
his fine moustache and woollen suit,
Matthew sets off at a steady breaststroke.
His name is the English form of a Greek form
of a Hebrew name that means ‘gift from god’.

Jeanne Calment is born on a cold day
in Arles. She will die at 122, becoming
the oldest person who has ever lived,
only getting famous at the age of 113.
Her name ‘Calment’ means ‘calming’.
She will have a beautiful garden.
in China, a four-year-old boy named Guangxu,
which means ‘glorious succession’, is made Emperor.
He will become fascinated by watches and clocks.
His desk will one day bear a large ornate drum,
used for brushes, and he will be painted
wearing a sunny blue silk tunic.
Matthew is horribly stung by jellyfish and has to be
revived in the Channel with medicinal brandy.
He is determined to keep his name free from failure.

Arles is not a famous place to live in yet.
It will be another thirteen years before Van Gogh
is to visit, paint three hundred paintings,
then leave. Everyone will love the idea that
a woman alive in the 1990s could have met him.
This idea will survive.
                                China will have a second 
emperor in Jeanne's lifetime. Also an assortment
of presidents, revolutions, republics, wars,
radios, televisions, telephones, cars, bicycles,
electricity, communism, feminism & MacDonalds.
The Great Firewall of China will be established
just before Jeanne dies. 
                                  Jeanne will die quietly,
despite saying she was ‘forgotten by god’.
Her body will be driven through Arles by
limousine. Photographs of her daughter and
grandson, both of whom she will have outlived
by several decades, will be laid upon her coffin.

Matthew struggles on, accompanied by three boats,
his name shouted down encouragingly by men.
He thinks he will write "nothing great is easy"
on his tombstone, but he has already forgotten
what the sky looks like.