Christopher Edgar

 

Birthday

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. . . .