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A Nielloware Bracelet by Jenny McAuley

Dr. Jenny McAuley is a writer and academic currently resident in Oxford. Since receiving her doctorate in English Studies from the University of Durham, she has held postdoctoral research associateships, and taught English literature of all periods from the Renaissance to the contemporary, at Durham, at the University of Oxford and Queen Mary University of London.


A NIELLOWARE BRACELET 

 

Tarnish whispers

the tale first uttered in fire

 

by silver, copper, lead,

in crucibled unison

 

speaking to silver

through black interruption

 

of sulphur, repeating ever

unquenched, in spite of water

 

this sea-nymph’s flight

from a lusting god of thunder—

 

how the lightening flash

of her brandished crystal baffles

 

his echoing axe-blows,

shocks him irate into silver

 

releases of stormrains reflected

black from fingers’ clasp,

 

from flick of wrist.

 

Niello is a black-toned alloy of silver, copper, and lead, melted with sulphur, and applied to silver items in decorative relief or etched designs. The traditional nielloware jewellery made in Thailand, and mass-produced for sale to tourists there in the twentieth century, often features characters from Khmer mythology. These figures include the lightning-goddess Mekhala, who used a magical crystal which could emit blinding light to defend herself against the unwanted advances of the axe-wielding thunder-god Ramasun (who in some versions of the story also covets the crystal). Their ongoing conflict was said to be the cause of electrical storms.

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