Built well before the Mahdi sacked Khartoum,
like a ledger or the Church of England
our house is square, accommodating. Swifts,
each May, pronounce their southern benison
on ashlar cornerstones and dead masons…
A butterfly, lost in the wintry cellar,
seems closed as death but wings part knowingly.
O peacock eyes, how you seduce from purpose
and time! Imperial birds cry harshly
in paper gardens… At dusk, in indigo,
swifts dissolve. The house is white, seems solid
as a steamship.
Lucheni had waited all day in the pines
above the lake. When she passed, he begged.
Her equerry dismissed him. As always,
self-absorbed, she saw nothing: an anarchist
with a grand and personal design.
On the quayside at Geneva, a week
later, Lucheni, the labourer,
stabbed Elizabeth, Empress of Austria,
with a homemade knife. Her husband foresaw,
like her assassin, anarchy: armies
entrenching in Bohemia;
The high windows caught the sky, varicose,
livid. The house was empty, unlived-in.
He hurried down wide paths strewn with rose petals,
wind-culled and faded. He searched borders,
bushes, her features imaged and snared in shapes
of angled branch and thorn, an orange sun
searing gun-metal clouds, the fountain sprouting
papery leaves, its bronze boy greening alone.
Ivy’s grasp crumbled artifice, obscured
the basin inscribed with a sonnet.
Soughing of breath or the wind in the arbour
summoned him into its close.
A nor’ easterly blew – over Dutchman Bank –
on the front at Beaumaris, so we had
our chips, fish and mushy peas in the Vectra,
watching the ebb tide slowly, slowly expose
the furrowed gold of the Lavan Sands
and the cormorants and oyster catchers
skim the waves, when, suddenly, a herring gull,
that voracious omnivore, that frequenter
of rubbish tips and landfills – the colours
of its plumage pristine, as if painted –
landed on our bonnet and,