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“–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!