The hearth is the centre, where I dance,
forever in flux. You may catch a smudge
of my face, a suggested complexion amid
the radiant plasma - my arm may be raised
a moment to form the edge of a flame -
but I flicker into a new shape before
you can formulate too many dogmas, or fix
me with an emblem. My sign is a trail
of soot which, at a sweeping, cascades
with a soft glittering, as though carbon
can remember the glory of its excitation
passing through my body, and up into smoke.
I cook; I cleanse. At death, I eat you whole.
That's why ancient ghosts are black as coal.
Poem by Giles Watson, 2013. Hestia was the ancient Greek goddess of the hearth. She was alone among the gods in refusing to choose an emblem for herself, perhaps because her presence was so ubiquitous that she did not require one. Although modern people tend to imagine ghosts as white in colour because their last sight of their loved one is of the corpse shortly after death, with the blood drained from the face, many ancient peoples saw black ghosts, because they watched the process of cremation.