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Samuel Prince


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Exhibit E: unearthed Stegosaurus spinal plates,
but mock and modelled on old cornflakes. Here be the porter:
aficionado of wood-warp and mould, filches from the donation box,
hunch-backed from a youth spent squirmed in a priest hole.

He shuffles a deck which depicts Kings and Queens
of a murderous dynasty, claims the name Césare
means nothing to him, but hums a Renaissance madrigal
the entire tour, introduces more of his sparse collection.

Ossified urns, icons of quacks and a forged Fabergé,
The Incest Egg, all uncited, only surviving, in cracked display cases.
The audio guide gives out, then relays in extinct tongues,
and oral testimonies of the three o’clock terror knock.

The mink hide visitor’s book bears a sole entry
From A.N. Other of whereabouts unknown:

The alabaster gladiatrix defiled her deltoid, caught my eye,
removed her head and fixed me with a cutlass smile.


Exhibit P: Puccini’s gown, allegedly. A Roman cooper’s mattock
inscribed in butch Minoan, casts from the earliest
face lifts trialled on wild swine. A hermit’s travelogue
of four calcimine walls. Allegedly, Puccini lived here.

Freakworks of eyeless bureaucrats and The Gunrunner’s Experience
open to visitors in the vamped armoury wing.
Here be the porter: aficionado of the clap and sneak thievery,
a gobbet of belladonna gelato drops from his chin.

The gift kiosk teller flicks a tripwire yo-yo, slurps a fungicide
Kool Aid. The school parties clamour to the interactive area
to shake the claws of lobotomised lobsters, let drop a guillotine
then each youth paints a tricolour in a turncoat’s blood.

The jobbing daemonette guards those counterfeit masters stored
in uncrackable vaults, watched over and nightly lullabied:

only a dupe conned at first sight, dares points a finger to ‘j’accuse’
only a dupe would declare that to love is not twinned with to lose.


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Asphalt crackles,
bitten Styrofoam judders on the dashboard,
the mascot twists, lynched to the rear-view,
swamped and strobed by passing head-lamps.

In theatre, the lead players tread the tiles
with plimsoll squeaks, in pastel scrubs
disposable gloves, muffling masks.
The surgical props ranged to gleam,
the suspicion of sedatives, a trephine
selected like a Belgian truffle,
a little soothing Chopin, and straps.

This, too, has become procedure, routine:
an insomniac tailing ambulances,
next of kin, to the tenebrous lot,
dimmed to the widest yawn
that is a pupil dilated,
scored by the diagonals of the parking grid,
watchful at the wheel for silhouettes above,
the stretcher bearing porters, or the unmarked
car that swings by the emergency bay
and dumps its spasmy load.

Any moment now, the felt pen lines,
the steadied approach, key to ignition.
The first incision.


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So long Georgetown gentility,
shrunken diplomatic circles,
simpers that stiffen to sutures,

in the ambassador’s presence
the know-how to kowtow,
call-girls on the payroll

and hotline to the underling
attaches, addicted to rumour
and counter-rumour.

Time to test my crowing
résumé where it counts
for zilch: in frowsy bazaars

where my translator hawks
taffeta throws, and insists
he shares his shisha, figs

and nuke-like spices, because
espionage is a culinary affair,
a drip-feed of alloyed knowledge

on a trail which takes me
to Konditorei Holstein
with its discretionary codes

its brackish tea, where your mole’s
name is brought to you with eggs
broken between a Cayman’s jaws.

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