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The clue lies in the lady’s toe

On visiting Henry Moore’s sculpture in Dumfries and Galloway

On a Scottish hillside the bronze statue
of an archetypal king and queen
braves the elements,

observing, perhaps, a thread
of slit-eyed sheep winding up the hill,
with careful, delicate tread,

yellow marks like lichen
on their rumps, their gaze
full of vague unanswered questions.

My mind, also, struggles to explain
the different texture of the metal on
the king’s right knee. While all the rest

is stippled, rippled, riven
in a pattern to catch the varying
shades of light, his knee is smooth.

What point was the sculptor making
as he carefully fashioned this
one unblemished surface?

Only as I descend the hill
does a clear-cut memory emerge
from long ago, as I recall

a constant stream of pilgrims
filing past a marble statue of
the queen of heaven,

the slight roughness of the stone
contrasting sharply with the smooth
and shining toe

which generations of the pious
have knelt to fondle and to kiss,
wearing away the awkward corners

and bringing out a deeper shine. The line
of sheep has reached the sculpture now,
and as I watch

each sidles up to the impassive king
and meditatively rubs her rump
against his knee.