But strange that I was not told
That the brain can hold
In a tiny ivory cell
God's heaven and hell.
- Oscar Wilde, “Roses and Rue” (1885)
False dreams emerge from the gate of sawn ivory
and slink around the fishponds of Heshbon.
The door I shut upon myself so carefully contrived
as to be an invisible hairline crack from outside.
Tier on tier, fine traceries and arabesques,
Cymbidium orchids sprout from hollowed Mastodon teeth
fluted baluster columns, orioles, and nested polyhedra,
spiral shells, flying buttresses like spider’s legs
or curving like tusks of time, fretted rafters, delicate carvings
of medieval saints and ancient gods
chryselephantine or tinted with Tyrian murex,
spires and minarets with white chess-piece finials,
Narwhal unicorn, and the shoulder of Pelops.
I have climbed the smooth, white, spiralling staircase
fashioned from butter-mellow piano keys
to the top of this scrimshawed Babel
to isolate myself in the fretted lotus
chamber while outside tides of shit,
tsunamis of merde, surge and beat
on the bone-pale, stainless walls.
Seated in a throne carved in Murshidabad
I dwell alone with sun and moon, and Wi-Fi.
I am sitting in the middle of the upper air
where there used to be untilled nothing.
I am looking down on you from luminous heights
scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
Outside the rose window
gargoyles the colour of fresh cream slowly circle
along the parapet to keep the whole
glorious, frivolous impossibility balanced, pausing
only to snatch the occasional dove from the air.
Never such mystery, such a degree of contemplative,
glacial solitude like unto the self.
Such is the capriciousness of art
that air changes to ivory,
forgetting the azure empire
that once surrounded us forever in every direction
(no elephants were harmed
in the making of this tower).