The Sixth Swan

The six shirts were finished, except for one that still lacked its left sleeve… The moment the shirts touched them, their swan skins fell off, and there stood her brothers, strong and handsome. Only the youngest lacked his left arm and had a swan’s wing in place of it.
– ‘The Six Swans’

A waterfall of feathers spills from his left shoulder.
He’s tempted to tilt his body sideways, limp,
convulse his features, but finds with practice
a measured stride, an expression – half-open,
half-closed – that will meet the situation.

Wealthy enough to hire a tailor of genius,
leisured enough to choose a life of letters,
he slides a brocaded cuff across vellum,
trailing feuilletons, odd gnomic poems:
monocles to quiz moonlight, seed unearthly fires.

Above sloped fingers, his quill embroiders air;
stops; moves resolutely on… He has picked up
the dropped stitch of his first, lost life.
There will be lapses, eccentricities, of course.
For one, he frequents the highest tower to see

flocks pinwheel the sunset, fracture in storm
or swim through cloud-surf, breasting noon’s topaz.
At such times his eyes become dangerous jewels
that fade to dullness when someone is sent
to guard him: ‘My, but that spectacle is ravishing –’

(eyes subtly turned), ‘they reach such heights!’
‘Yes,’ he rejoins wearily, ‘it is a long way down.’
But he’s not tempted. If he feels a tremor
of that winged life pass through him,
his whole body unnerved, displaced from itself,

as a great white shadow twitches and tingles –
athirst to be silvered by sunlight, to arrow through
cobalt space above miles of conifers –
well, that is all so much rhetoric… His wing
settles into his side like moulded parchment.

It is only having two arms again would break him.
And had he two wings it would sadden – he’d be
a homunculus-bird, a lard-wrapped angel…
He climbs the steps of the tower. It’s midnight.
The sky is a page of stars he can’t write on,
a compendium of invincible memories.