Via Cappellari, Rome
There is no front door; the way in is through
a gash in the old man's chest. Behind his ribcage
centuries-old buttons regulate the beating
of his heart. His chambers are bordered
by pleated velvet, the arch of his aorta embellished
with medallions carved in ivory and horn.
His ventricles are red-ruched satin, stitched
by hand, reinforced with the bleached baleens
of whales. You have only to press your ears
to the walls of his chest to overhear murmurs
of treason, bear witness to acts of love
and betrayal in the eighteenth-century court
of Versailles. His floating rib transmits
the sound of insects colliding with candle light,
street lamps and crystal chandeliers. Stand close
to detect the whirr of industry - in his blood vessels
the heat and light of theatre sets
and behind-the-scenes machinery.
He is centuries old. His superior vena cava echoes
with the metal of wartime trenches
empty cartridges, abandoned ammunition belts
and lost belt buckles: there, too, the crack
and split of a sailing ship crushed
in the fist of a storm.
There is no front door;
the way in is through the gash
in the old man's chest. His body
is an apology of dull grey scaffolding
but his heart? His heart remains
a patient, all-weather place.
This poem first appeared in OPEN BOOK - Poetry & Images, published by Steele Roberts Ltd, 2007
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