The Assassin
The Assassin

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; riders

galloping from Buda; at the Hofburg,

Jews and republicans!

The Crown Prince
The Crown Prince

The Empress and her only son discovered

the twentieth century. Rudolf

was cavalry and a liberal. ‘After

a long period of sickness,’ he wrote,

‘a wholly new Europe will arise

and bloom.’ Father misunderstood him.

At Mayerling, Rudolf shot Marie Vetsera

and then himself. Elizabeth travelled

from grief or disillusion: obsessive,

dilettante, naive and beautiful.

They died before their time, believing

their neuroses symptoms of the age, the world’s

contours shaped like their hearts.

The Empress
The Empress

On Corfu, she built The Achillean,

a kitsch imitation of the attic.

She peopled the palace’s emptiness

with statues of soldiers and poets –

like Heine, her favourite. “Another

subversive Jew!” the Emperor observed.

‘Ich hatte einst ein schones Vaterland.’

The Dying Achilles, nude except for

his helmet, was turned to face the north – Berlin

Vienna, Sarajevo. After

her death, the Kaiser bought the palace,

sold off Heine and replaced her Achilles

with his, The Victorious.

The Emperor

Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria,

King of Jerusalem, Duke of Auschwitz,

wore, on his wedding night, dress uniform.

He signed his letters to Elizabeth,

‘Your lonely manikin.’ After he had read

the telegram informing him of her death,

“No one knows,” he said, “how much we loved

each other.” ‘Es traumte mir von einer

Sommernacht.’ Across the darkening straits,

lamps are lit on the Balkan mainland.

On the empty terrace, a march or perhaps

a waltz wheezes from the orchestrion.

Fireflies blink with passion.


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