So there he was in the library, crouched above the floor
like a mousetrap, squinting into his rickety parallel edition
of the Satires. The paperback was from the late fifties;
its cover had long detached, released its burden, demoted itself
to a floating flapless jacket, and some of the pages
were beginning to tip out – in short, the book required two hands
to be consulted, so his grip was intense but worshipful.
He never journeyed anywhere without it, and he relished
the odd quotation over an ale: ‘Why is it, Maecenas,’
he would mutter, ‘that no one is ever quite happy …?’
And there he was again, on the Persian rug, a prayermat mouse
Latining into his cups, mumbling mantras that he alone
could hear. We hated it when the demons repossessed him –
the medicos would dismiss him as eccentric,
at best melancholic, in those days when the Sadness was just a ‘cloak’.
The house tonight shook to eluctable musics, the clustered roomfuls
jangled and rowdied onward,
distressing damsels (spilt and semiclad) drifted the liquid corridors
strumming their thighs; but he had settled himself on the magical
Horace in hand, deaf to all temptation. A prism
of the Black Label sat beside him, the mystic flask an orange glow
on the mantel, yet his love of the elixir never placated him –
it only made him vocal, and further classical.
Surely enough, as we broached his shadowy island he shouted: ‘Nemo!’