The Margravine Mathilde, has among her lands An old windmill on a hill that once burst into flames. The result a wild experiment by her wicked Uncle Who foolishly mixed necromancy with an angry mob. His death ennobled her, gave her a castle Set in magnificent grounds, but the sword Of a marcher lord rests uneasy in her hand.
She had formerly spent many Cosmopolitan years Conducting tours of arctic fiords and reading Self-improving works of anatomy, physiology And especially electrochemisty.
In her new home she lets noble modesty Rule her tongue and grave discretion mask Her nightly emptying of new-filled tombs.
When questioned about her hobby, pursued In the family tradition, she is deferent To the scythes and sensibilities of her burghers. But in her windmill she’s the secret surgeon And labours hard at imitating God’s creation. She wields a scalpel sharp as the lemons growing In her castle’s well ordered and extensive gardens.
She hums as she cleans the metal of her table.
Her thoughts follow other rhythms than the washing Of lye and soap and water. Her heart is the sea Ebbing and flowing in a silver mirror. The clots and gristle and glistening fat Are translucent fishes swimming In the wake of a small boat on the waves.
She wrings out her cloth and every scrap And shred of discarded flesh spills out. In this knotting of meat and machine. The yarn of life is cut, carded, and spun At her wheel. Her tapestry is hung about
The new created Eve, who reflects her ladyship In a mask of skin-work stitched fine as lace.
A spare hand crawls from its formaldehyde. The detached appendage seeks its own way Skittering over brown floorboards: Oiled, varnished, reflective. It might be a crab The way it finger-walks, clicks across the oak. While the patchwork Eve waits in her bandages: A daughter to the Margravine born of no man.
She checked the donors as she decanted them From their graves aided by crooked Colombina,
Old Igor’s slightly singed daughter, Who’s ticking out time with a beating heart Caught in the electricity of Eve’s eyes. They have spent so long waiting for the flicker Of lightening in the sky and now a puff of cloud
Grows like a graveyard mushroom in the night. The storm rages like an angry burgomaster And illuminates the machinery as Mathilde And Columbina winch Eve to the roof top Where blue fire bathes her head to toe. She stirs in uneasy dreams of burning windmills.
But the mob sleeps on in the village, unaware.
At last Mathilde can forget the towers of her ancestral prison, the borders burden , And duty to her forefathers. As Eve, her twin, Acts the perfect mirror and Mathilde has A new career running steam-boats out of Bergen. Some notice that things remain too-much as they were:
Strange, they say, how the chatelaine Is unchanged fifty years later. Consistent in her day And night and clockwork through the seasons:
Her face impassive and still fine as Flemish lace. A silver mask dancing in circles through the snow With her servant old Colombina, whose father Served Mathilde’s, now famous, Uncle Victor.
Columbina wears a sly smile, party to some secret As she picks lemons in the summer gardens. In winter dressed in white fur, she sugars the fruit And ices the Christmas cake, keeping the hours Of her ancestral home in the castle on the marches. While far away a steamer’s moored. Footsteps tripping Through the snow towards the bright lights of a city.
(First published in ‘Basilisk Soup and Other Fantasies’ by Oliver Smith, 2016)
Oliver is inspired by the landscapes of Max Ernst, by frenzied rocks towering in the air above the silent swamp, by the strange poetry of machines, by something hidden in the nothing. His poetry has appeared in ‘Abyss & Apex’, ‘Liminality’, ‘Rivet’, ‘Strange Horizons’, and ‘Sylvia Magazine’. His poem ‘Better Living through Witchcraft’ was awarded first place in the BSFS 2019 competition and ‘Lost Palace, Lighted Tracks’, which appeared in ‘Eye to the Telescope’ 32, was nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. In 2020 Oliver was awarded a PhD in Literary and Critical Studies by the University of Gloucestershire. His website is at https://oliversimonsmithwriter.wordpress.com/