Beaded sweat of cinnabar it is,
a toxic near-vermilion
bleeding drops of brilliant silver.
Alchemists saw liquid gold mock them in its glitter.
For Greeks, its scurry spoke their courier-god,
his sandals trimmed with fetching little wings.
All China’s rivers shone with mercury
in the jewelled tomb of Emperor Chi’n.
Smeared on chancred roués, it became
the morning-after cure of choice,
filling a highly profitable niche
in unfastidious surgeries.
For ages it was billed as the liveliest act
in the pantomime of elements,
dodging, tumbling, racing, skidding,
jumping through the hoop of its own meniscus.
But now it’s slipped right out of fashion.
Incinerators waft mercurial fumes
from morbid batteries and dead thermometers.
Redundant dental fillings vaporise in the fires of crematoria.
– David Morphet 2010