For Patricial Mallon
No man was good enough to be my father;
the Registrar of Bastards being up to D
my mother called me Kostrowitzky,
but at Neugluck, hard by the Seven Mountains,
downstream from the miraculous head,
I became its namesake, the poet that I am.
Neugluck! The fish-skinned Vicomtesse designed it,
her pumpernickel velvety with ergot, the day
her father’s boarhounds ate their dolls-house.
She loved me deeply, as did they all,
but I had chosen the English governess
with her Virgin-of-the-Bean blue eyes,
those eye-pods the colour of Egyptian lentils
and that tongue, a royal barge of Carthage
flaming behind the white cities of her teeth.
Our words poured like honey from a madman’s tongue,
pledges of the flesh redeemed by starlight.
At times I left her speechless with my dash –
as on Drachenfels where Siegfried conquered.
She was all Yes, Yes on the precipice,
but down among the accordions and Rhenish tenors
barking roundelays for chopping sauerkraut
her nerve failed. My love died like her eyes
and I strode forward, master of my voice.
I remember the secretary’s pear-shaped skull
always in a cloud of shag – smoking a narcisse,
his chest whistled like a pan of shellfish –
but it is the Countess I’ll never forget!
She was sporting black then for Count Unicorn,
who’d earned his nickname for one outstanding cyst,
while her daughter knocked some corners off the Greek
lined up to fill his slippers. We pitied Kostro
with his damp hands and flat, beseeching cheekbones:
like my father, his voice seemed to come from his neck
Men are such dummies. I’d walk him for her
where the wind took his smoke and endless French –
I didn’t speak it, which certainly helped.
Once, though, I'm sure he suggested we should marry.
I felt hunted. We? I kept repeating, We?
So did he, which really got on my nerves,
especially during the harvest concert.
I could have cheerfully cut off his head.
About that time I chose to live abroad,
somewhere far, somewhere beginning with A.
Barring once in the earthquake, I’ve never wavered.
Now you come with talk of Kostro’s poetry,
of Beatrice and Laura – my name is Annie,
and I’d like to hear about the Countess’ daughter.