I have a confession to make
when I was young
I was constantly losing shoes.
Of course, the climate was different then:
the trees both bigger and easier to climb,
the birds more virtuous,
more butterflies, fewer clouds,
and all around
the smell of burning peat.
Blue men roamed the earth
behind stone walls built by Romans
at the far end of our yard where
the jungles of Southeast Asia began.
You see, I was a legionnaire sent to find the North Pole
my brother was Horatio Hornblower . . .
No, we were all away when the zeppelin landed
my father was magistrate in Khartoum,
where my mother tended to the sick,
my brother had just befriended Neils Bohr,
when I signed the petition to free Dreyfus.
Mata Hari lived next door
it was her the zeppelin crew came for
like Baba Yaga she kept a shrunken head
on her front porch, with a lighted candle in it
we all knew she worked for the other side
and ate Crusader flesh, she was a real pterodactyl. That was
the year the Nile overflowed its banks, that Krakatoa, east of Java,
sent the reek of burning cloves through the South Seas.
In Siberia a wooly mammoth skull was found,
under a mountain of ice, on my tenth birthday, my brother was in bed
with scurvy, and rickets, and elephantiasis of the liver, and
my mother gave him balms, and myrhh, and more balms and myrrh,
and mustard plasters, and I got a blunderbuss, a jaguar, and a troglodyte,
and we ate figs and eels and Baked Alaska and drank grenadine straight
from the bottle, we witnessed the invention of gunpowder, and saw gauchos
lasso rheas with bolas and drink maté, while natives buried fish
in the garden, with Marco Polo, and Good King Wenceslaus pummeled Bad
King John into submission until he saw stars-Andromeda and Orion and
Draco the dragon-we made him ride over the Bridge of Assizes with the
last of the Hittites on a donkey, naked through the streets of Coventry,
Maximilian brought aardvark to the dance, and was summarily executed,
by Savonarola, who stole fire from the gods and tried to get away on
the back of a roc, and then on a juggernaut, only to cause Ragnarök,
the twilight of the gods; it was then, too, that Rasputin danced with
Mary, Queen of Scots for the last time, I can still see her sobbing
into her mantilla. . . .