In an Antiquary’s Cabinet

Motes perform their circus act
in pallid sunlight that forgets to warm
this chamber full of wings and bones.

My black-coated forebear knew
that butterflies rule the world.
He was not charmed by this,
and in the gaudy scraps that jittered
through his garden saw an emblem
of some realer thing, some ballet simmering
behind the brain and under the fingertips
impelling this folly, that regret.

Being connotation’s lifelong foe,
his head was full of alien vitality.
He daily felt its rustle in his skull.
Hence pins and formalin, this zoo
of chests and glass-topped rows
impaled so he could spy in safety
on the labrum, scape and clypeus,
the tongue’s spiralling extravaganza.

I too crane in guilty relish over fishscale-
and-feather underwings and compound
astonished eyes. His box of trilobites,
his iguanodon’s ulna, reverberate less
with time than these, that shed ages
like dust. I start at the creeping cold.
Saurian roots tug my spine. The motes
in the lancing sunlight are unsleeping.

Adam Elgar


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