Once, elsewhere, and never again, there was a castle:
high, high in mountains above the sea of bright clouds,
among the stars, silence spilling from its windows,
a waterfall from its gate, the silver cataract
diffusing into vapor a thousand leagues below.
Within it nestled the knotted garden of my childhood,
ordinary in the center, the way all things begin;
further outward into shadows the garden grew ever larger.
On nights without a moon the walls disappeared
and the garden became whole worlds.
We grew old enough to play unattended,
never to be overtaken by sunrise out of sight of the castle,
remembering the unguarded child who did not return.
In the tallest tower was the library,
tier upon tier of books vanishing upward into haze
with rare glimpses of a frescoed ceiling
writhing with forms too distant to be identified.
When any book opened, each page was a mirror;
observing the chamber or vista behind one’s reflection,
the tableau would slowly begin to move and the tale unfold,
comedy over the right shoulder, tragedy over the left shoulder,
according to ancient custom.
At my ascendancy, it was arranged for my portrait to be painted
by Signor da Vinci, summoned from his vanished world.
During his sojourn, he also painted his own image,
dressed as a woman, from one of our curious books,
but adamantly refused to divulge what had taken place
in that dim landscape beyond his other self.
My state portrait still hangs in the long gallery,
staring back at wide-eyed visitors, who cower and pass by quickly.
I am frozen there forever in stone-dark robes of power,
caressing the winged serpent in my lap;
blood stains the heavy brocade in a pattern
resembling a language you would rather not learn.