“–and so I will, by hook or hell! Sincere
and thoroughly deciphered, Yours: Gladstone.”
…Or snap the pen between my teeth! This green,
this green? Remove it, he is dead! My peers,
back-bench Iagoes, fret their beards. The Queen?
What can or could I say? “All suns must end”?
No. Too mannered, too Lucretian. She’ll need
my tears – perhaps I pointillate each page
with flecks of water, or would ale show best?
Words, then effects. I said, remove these weeds!
Green mocks me… Old Lion, his paws & breast
more thorn than claw or pelt… I’ve fought my age
like a beast from Aesop, couched amid the brakes,
deflated & concealed. What lessons now?
My foil is dead! Peruse the index: mice,
combat of pygmies & cranes, Avernal lakes
where Charon as crocodile conveys the lice
of little souls, capsizes, rolls, confounds
the itch of obligation – where’s my match?
my significant? where’s the velvet shield
to smirk my spear aside, maintain a suave
reluctance to confirm the blow? my Ajax,
green-tailored, wreathed in frippery, who jaws
for Trojan games while gold-cloth suits the field?
Our clash was scripted from the first. I spurred
the purpled edge & fashion of his sword
to momentary greatness. He was myth!
& I its antecedent; a spartan bird
to his confectionary dragon. Pith
neglected while the flagrant rind’s adored!
Though nearly blinded, like some Frankish king,
by a lanky splinter ousted with my axe,
I’d heft that weight again & notch the tree,
fruit & all! … Nothing pure will grow, nothing.
Our age is rotten at its root. Should we
amend the harvest or the crop… – Relax?
How can I? The thief’s absconded, & I run
the limit of my leash. Yet he’ll return,
vaguely disguised, to drag me from this watch.
Six decades, Lord, and so much left undone…
Ah! Your hand, Catherine, like cool linen across
my brow, when I swell Vesuvian & burn.
Do you recall that dinner? Truffled swan,
her neck festooned with links of onion pearls,
afloat in ladles of a pepper sauce,
the saffron currents of the Thames at dawn;
while, perched on knucklepoint, he hems & scoffs,
corpse-bored, like Sardanapalus in curls!
On a pyre of pillows, expectant & askew,
he idly styles himself in a Mughal font:
each Mistress Quickly veiled with a harem sheen;
her eyes, not shot with soot, flirt rims of blue;
her cotton shift a palanquin between
her thighs, astride his elephant of want.
Bespoke vulgarities! He understands
your singular delight & token shame,
then works to richly clothe your naked fur
with a twirl of metered tape, with chop & chance:
the loose enticements of the bachelor
are donned with furtive escapades & capes –
dank relics from his wardrobe – sewn with sins
more voguish than your own; perhaps champagne,
not whores, is your device, he’ll cinch your neck
in a Nehru soaked & spotted from a binge;
or plays moral apologist for wrecks
of greater men – he’d lace the boots on Cain!
At last his louche embarrassments are spent.
He sinks under his collar grayed with musk
& the stink of giddy sweat, dun velvet folds
around his flicking ears. Dull gazing, pent
by a waft of waxy smoke, submersive, cold
in his patient veins – a crocodile in cuffs,
or seems, when laughter like an acid bog
devours the dapper reptile to his fez –
Outrageous? No! … Perhaps too cynical:
your English lion’s a wormy, toothless dog…
You saw him: Juan stuffed rabbinical,
who slums civilian with his dour Inez,
enduring conversation from his chair
of sighs, while every guest – as grass is flesh –
must meet the sickle of his faffing wit;
in passing arcs he mows this cohort bare;
but my oak was firm Pompeian then, I bit
back, bark on metal… – Wait! I recall your dress:
you waltz its delicate & lightning lace,
the surrogate of silver-plated air,
among the blushing rows of claret sipped
between us…like some Rubicon! His face,
you saw it, plotting even then!, a crypt
for all our casualties… – Oh, you weren’t there?
No matter! Memory is a mendicant
who cannot parse the copper from the crumbs
and only understands that she is fed;
her past defined by circumstance, palms rent
by broken cobblestones; and where she bled
a crimson index for all she’s overcome,
for all she’s seen… – What telegram? The Queen!
What can or could I say? She wants my tears,
a genuine conniption, the Ganges bent
along the furrows of my grief… Serene?
Let Moses cane the desert rock, I’m spent!
If sighs read false, at least my pen’s sincere.
Clear off my desk… “By hook or hell”? The gaff
will come no matter crude or otherwise
to steer aloft your predatory lamb,
O Lord… It comes & bears my autograph;
it comes with cold oblivion… A dram
of sherry whisked with egg to neutralize
my nerves that charge the dark Atlantic pool
within me – Catherine, please! This telegram
ignites the blinking cable of my spine
which long adversity pricked from her spool
to thread the avenue from hand to mind…
Without this spark, I don’t know who I am.
Look there! That world is new-born anodyne,
survived by meeklings styled courageous men
whose wiles are creased in glib facsimile
of brawn or beast – a leopard of the mind,
bred & suckled by a bald menagerie,
a sleek disciple for the tribe of Ben.
Conspirators & clowns! … My thoughts grow hoarse
like kings who bicker with a board of pawns.
My loyal foe, there’s still some liquor left
to swirl sweet-toxin on my old remorse,
praise & plunder your legacy, repress
that continental quip: das ist der mann!
I hear the bells… Time, time incarcerates
the soul that savors what it can’t forgive.
Bring back the fern, I’d rather watch it rust.
Winter with its chiming twelves will decimate
Disraeli & our strife to perfect dust…
Come Spring, I will remember how to live!