Mary’s Elephant, Elizabeth’s Spinet by Ruth Sophia Padel

Some night in the 1580s, she snaps the last knot off with her teeth
By candle-light. One blob under the tail and she has him, in tent
Stitch: startled king from ‘Icones Animalium’, a beast she’s never seen.
Ears, silver-pink abalone. Feet lost in a webbed pool
Of bubbles: blue muttonfat peas.  She rests him on her lap
Writing letters in her head, unsendable as words for resin
In Armenian akrolect. Her cousin knows everything she has to say
Already. It’s been said.  Outside, the black unbroken forest
Rides to London. Wolves kill a roe, for cubs whose last descendent
Will be shot in Mary’s realm, two hundred years down the line.
But she, in these walls, is marigold: a heliotrope,
Turning to sun that will never warm her skin again,
Ransacking old books in Spanish for emblems of hope.

Down south, the keyboard’s come from Florian, in Venice.
Cousin E tries some Byrdian version of ‘Only the Lonely’, checks
The gilt inlay, Islamic painted whorls, the logo of falcon and sceptre.
(Her mum’s. She paid extra for that.) A fretted bronze rose
For the sound-hole: an eavesdropping sun. She’s awaiting her spies.
She has become her own grotesque. She can never give in.
She sends men to the tropics, men to death. When her blood says
Dance, she will gavotte the night away with the Earl of Leicester.
Are there tears for what she looks like now; for who on earth else
May show up in her bed? When melancholy strikes, they see
Her turn to a Pavane. Shadow-bones, capitate, triquetral, lunate,
Stripe and flinch in the back of her hand. One frizzed hair,
White and red, drifts down over black middle C.

And if you and I held hands across this room, touched DNA
Of their touch sloughed off on this tusker
Embroidered in velvet and lint, this Venice lacquer,
Cypress, ebony, we would join fingerprints that never met.


Date: 2002

By: Ruth Sophia Padel (1946- )

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