Of the Old Man of the Mountain
We were both bored, sitting on a wall when he
picked us up. His chauffeur drove for hours, too far
to change our minds and ask to be taken back,
up fenceless mountain roads to the gates
of a white villa hidden in low clouds and cedars.
The old man peeled oranges and poured retsina.
Leaning on cushions, he lit a glass pipe
and we watched the smoke curl into its stem.
He breathed the smoke from his mouth into ours
and stroked our hair as we fell asleep listening
to him tell of the garden where we would forever
be happy and fifteen.
We woke to the sounds of silver birds chiming
in the fruit trees over our heads, their filigreed
wings glimmering between the leaves. We shook
figs and pomegranates from the orchard. From over
a lake came the sound of laughter. Boys and girls
with long hair dragged us down with them to swim
and dry off naked in the warm grass.
The old man always sat a little apart. Each night
he wound the mechanical silver birds to wake us.
When we mentioned our mothers, he touched honeyed wine
to our lips and we forgot their names.
One night he brought the pipe, kissed our mouths again
with hot smoke and we opened our eyes at the foot
of the mountain, cheeks printed with gravel,
a dead dog buzzing with flies on one side of us,
on the other the buses and scooters from the village,
drivers laughing and leaning on their horns.
They are the ones who slip
for the moon’s inconstant silver, who pitch
into ponds and streamlets
on nights when no one watches.
Simian-headed but webbed
at hands and feet,
they learn like frogs to breathe
through porous skins
growing cucumber green.
Slipping the meniscus, they return
while their parents sleep
to drop lunar currency on dressers,
leave behind small puddles,
a redolence of fish.
When we kissed on the cheek
on the Charing Cross Road
you smelled like yellow roses
and later when you unwound
your redbrown hair I thought
of horses and chestnuts, separately.
The taste of your name was pastel,
coral in milk and round
and small enough to roll
along the curl of my tongue
until it dissolved leaving almonds
and hot summer pollen.
The New Queen
The nurses chose me,
fed me rich jellies
to make me grow.
There were others, sisters
whose limbs thickened
and darkened with mine.
I sensed their movements,
turning head downwards.
I forced an opening and called
into the dark passages. Found them
hiding in their cells.
I ransacked the nursery,
stinging the pale worms
until they were still.
The old queen was smothered
by her closest, expiring
in a nightmare of daughters.
I celebrated high in the sparkling air
with the drones,
mated them each to their death
and carried their gift home
to remind me
in my slow, swollen years
of our crazed flight,
their suicidal joy.