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2007 Porter Prize winner: 'Sanctum' by Alex Skovron

by
March 2007, no. 289

2007 Porter Prize winner: 'Sanctum' by Alex Skovron

by
March 2007, no. 289

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
carpet,
       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!’