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I paid a call today
upon a gentleman
of capital repute who
spends his days upon
an island in a mansion
noncorporeal and pores,
or so I’m told, over his assets.

I found him, though,
outside with no portfolio
in sight, on a wrap-around
verandah, in a linen suit and
boater’s hat, a ten of hearts
stuck in the band.

The purpose of my visit, Sir—

I know why
you have come,
he said, and bade
me sit upon a swing
of woven cane that rocked
with some ferocity whene’er
I took my feet from off
the floor—but worse,
in planting firm my soles,
the swing rebelled
and threw me off.
Three times I flew
across the porch, a
squawking crane, before
the gentleman whose laughter
shook the eaves and smelled
like cedar chips and tide
pools of Madeira said:

The swing is quite a
marvel, no? It will slow
when you let go. As I have
told 10,000 presidents and
plutocrats, the most important
things in life revolt against
both feet upon the ground.

A maid in lace
arrived with tea while I
swung back and forth so
hard my bones were
loosening the sea and sky
the mansion and the questions
I’d intended to put well to him
swirled in hurling tones of
puce and pome—bleeaaaagh!

Your tongue, I heard
the fellow say. Rest it in
the center of your mouth.
Let go your need to prattle
and opinionate. The world
will turn just fine without
your constant, cranking,
over-educated urgency.

I did as he suggested
and eventually, the motion
of my ever-present, non-
directed, aggravating
energy decelerated and…
I found myself in poplin
with my slippered feet
a-dangling, no evidence
of anything, apart from
strange attire, embarrassing.

The gentleman
picked up the tiny
silver tweezers from
the china bowl of
sugar cubes. One
lump…or thousands?

Your word, he carried on,
as Word will do, preceded
you. I understand you’ve hit
a juggernaut of flaccid minds
and rubber necks, and now
you know not where to turn
to think without upsetting
apple carts and moral
codes and labour laws
and anti-trusts and love
affairs and laissez-faires…

I knew from his biography
the gentleman was sharing
all he’d struggled with in nearly
fourscore years of life until
a clot no bigger than a lentil
reached his heart and showed
him with a flash of light so
blinding white he thought
he’d died (he had) but in that
great illumination too he knew—

And there he stopped.

He knew. He knew.
Knew what? The cost?
I finally ventured.

Yes. Of what,
do you suppose?

The swing that held
me with such stillness
creaked and started to
lurch forward, and my feet
so nearly touched the floor
I felt its grain and heard
its oaken warning: No!

I lifted limbs
with gratitude
and tucked them
underneath my skirt
and drank my sweetened
tea and thought of all
I had been trained
with humourless
rigidity to think

of me
of him
and systems
we call politic
and passionate
and treacherous
and lecherous

and just as quickly
as I thought, the issues
I’d assigned such gravity
they flowed away. For free.
No cost to me or him
or anyone. And in that
nearly total clarity,
a question: Do I
have to…?

Die to see the light?
he said and took a walking
stick with silver tip from
near his chair.

I don’t believe he
answered, not in words,
and neither spoke for hours
while we toured his private
island, though I see here
in my notes, I wrote:

Injurious self-government
is all I need to overthrow.


One of my creative processes in writing long fiction is to create character sketches in poetic form. This is one of them.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014