The Ghisi Miniatures

Were you told I had a fine collection of miniatures?
I understand your sight is poor, but let me
describe some of them to you, while we wait.
Here is a lapis shell that opens to reveal

a mermaid astride a dolphin. She has two tails,
no antiseptic Hollywood creature she,
they coil in relish as they hold her sex
fast to the spine of the undulant beast.

Now here’s a locket of chaste and simple lines,
inside a lady sits on a stool,
one plump arm ‘neath a storm of skirts.
A footman lounges on a chair before her,

his long penis entering the naked maid
who straddles him and blushes with shame
and delight. The lady leans forward
and inspects their genitalia avidly.

I know the room in which this all takes place,
I recognise the land beyond the window,
it is a hunting lodge our family kept for many years.
I’ve often wondered who the artist was.

These two ovals framed in gold have black ribbons
tied in bows about them, and are much older.
They show a brother and sister aged two and four.
Inside the backs are locks of hair, still soft.

And here beside them is their mother, her lap full
of jewels, a tiara in her black hair.
She was an ancestor of mine from the far south;
a powerful family that ruled a wide domain.

She wed a handsome foreigner,
but he had an eye for women, and he fell
for the widowed mistress of a neighbouring estate
(one slightly richer and with better game)

who enticed him away. Fearing
his wife’s white fury, he took their two children
as hostage against her good behaviour.
But he didn’t understand the nature

of her love for him, for when she heard
what he’d done, her love turned to a black hatred
that filled her as if her very blood was made
of darkness. She and her half-crazed brother,

together with a mob of hired killers,
fell upon her usurper, and she slit
her children’s throats before her husband’s eyes,
and that was just the hors d’oeuvre, as it were.

The tiara she wears in her portrait
has not faded with age, as people
sometimes think. Rather, it was already pale,
being made of small bones

taken from her rival’s hands and feet.
The baubles she fondles were her rival’s jewels.
One child only did she give birth to
in the rest of her life, somehow fathered

by her brother. It was that act of incest,
perhaps, that gave our family its tone-deafness
and slight emotional instability.
Ah! I hear my wife’s footfall on the stair,

I’m so pleased she’s found a nice companion
to share her love of music. I know you’ll both
enjoy the concert, and the dinner after.
Take your time, there is no need to hurry back.