Faded gilding, rubbed through to cracking, flaking wood.
A glamour of ages, sliding, flies to the breeze.
The little bird perches on a once-fine moulding;
Head tilted, one bright eye turned towards the mantle
where a half-blind mercurised mirror barely reflects
an army of creeping vines, consuming naked angels
and the God of this house.
Our hero’s velvets are ruined, dripping and eaten through.
Where riches have lived, decay succeeds.
Nature’s velvets; opulent mosses and emerald lichens
are devouring damask
and smoothing over marbled hardness.
The bird listens for footsteps.
The lady would scatter crumbs on the windowsill
and he would flutter, unafraid,
to peck at her sweet feast.
Once, she drew him.
Fine-lining passerine delicacy,
her pencils fetched him,
and bestowed him an artist’s nobility.
He turned, this way and that,
flashing gold-touched wings,
miming a duchess snapping open a fan.
She’s gone now,
and so have the crumbs.
The bird senses no sugar on the sill,
nor the faintest reminiscence
of lavender perfume, glittering as star bursts
at the hollow of her throat.
He sings regardless,
a mournful beauty
longing to return to a glorious, lustful age,
where light refracted in cut crystal,
danced upon frescoes
and illuminated the ugly –
- to render them enchanting.
He swoops to dance on the mantle,
answered by the mirror
and sits a while, preening.
The gentlemen and ladies are gone forever.
Ejected from history to echo as ghosts of fancy and excess,
undeserving of remembrance or pity.
The bird will never forget.
And knots up secrets
kept tightly in his breast,
committed to his tiny, fierce heart.
The Goldfinch is my favourite bird - both owing to its numerous appearances in Renaissance art and as the silent protagonist in Donna Tartt's book bearing its name.