The Assayist

Each evening he takes his
small failures, isolating
what was jewel-like, precious,
the topaz slant of winter light
across the dim hail, a drop of rain
patinating a pigeon's wing,
from the day's dark mass,
placing it in a cupel of bone ash
in the furnace's fiery maw.
This is true alchemy,
not mere pinchbeck promises
or the transmutation of fool's gold.
Solids melt. What is base
oxidises, absorbed as if by magic
until it yields a tiny bead
of dull gold. This he will cool,
flatten, roll, boil in nitric acid
to separate impure from pure.
Then he will weigh the residue
balancing the black ash
of midnight against the glint
of dawn, stamp his gleaming
bullion with its carat, an anchor,
three castles, a leopard's head.