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In Memory of Geoffrey Keynes, Kt. late of Lammas House 1887-1982
When wing to wing, feather by feather,
the rooks were piecing night together,
I took the ring the iron-lipped
iron-lidded lion gripped
and tapped the call-sign on his hide.
He knew me, nodded, moved aside,
and as the light fell through the door
I walked into your head once more.
I could distinguish, layer by layer,
each constituent of the air:
vellum and beeswax; apple, oak,
and elm gone up in years of smoke;
tanned pastry, ghosts of roasted meat;
the breath of oxlips, wintersweet,
jasmine, and Stanely Spencer’s tall
corinthian hyacinths on the wall.
The old clock in a fancy waist-
coat cleared its throat and, poker-faced, pointed to Margaret’s room. I must
have slipped in without sound or gust,
for on the mantelpiece the frieze
had thawed and bountiful Ceres
bowed from a festal chariot drawn
by cherubs shouldering sheaves of corn
for Lammas. Darwin in a chair
inhaled his beard. And through a pair
of ancient spectacles, tugged free
from a book’s teeth, I could see
a knickerbockered boy advance
to greet a flock of bustled aunts.
The clock struck. They went out like flames
leaving their shadows, shrunk, in frames.
And I went also, up the stairs
where Catherine Blake’s embroidered hares
danced in the moonlight. Ran a bath
under the gaze of a lithograph
“Sixty-four Years a Queen,” to whom
I bowed: “Allow me to presume
to higher strains if you will use
it first, ma’am.” “We are not a muse.”
And so to such a downy bed
and downy pillow that the head
no sooner settled . . . than today
came in with teacups on a tray.
But not today, and not again
the day sketched over the counterpane,
an airy canvas, to be swept
with sunlight in a south transept,
and more than sunlight as we walk
through Danes’ Blood, welling from the chalk,
or in the workshop carve those two
owl-guardians of your gateposts, who
today, frock-coated mourners, keen
for you as we process between.
Your books cry your name from the shelf,
but where’s your masterpiece—Yourself?
Not in your house, or over there
in Brinkley churchyard’s flinty loam.
The rooks return and riot,
the rooks return and you do not.
I shall know where to find you, however, forever. Old master, now
that your fire’s out, draw up a chair
to mine, and make yourself at home.