The Strange Museum

First I woke in an upstairs drawing-room.
The curtains had been pulled back, but the house
was empty. It was furnished and oddly
quiet. A patriarch's monument.
I could see others like it in a kind of park.
Someone had built them long before in a crazed
Scottish-baronial style, foolish with turrets.
Snow had fallen during the night, so I woke
to a white silence. You had gone away.

Was this the estate of some dead, linen
millionaire ? And was I some servile spirit
who knew his place in the big house and was locked
in a fierce doctrine of justification?
Somewhere among the firs and beeches, there was
a god of curses who wished us both dead.
His finger was on the trigger. He was insane.
The vindictive shadow, I thought, he scatters
bodies everywhere and has broken the city.

I blamed him then, for I too had been touched;
my notion of freedom was like the curved chairs
in that room. A type of formal elegance.
Had you been there we would have made love
in that strange museum, but it would still
have oppressed us with its fixed anger.
I knew then, in that chill morning, that this
was the house I had lived in once, that I was through
with the polite dust of bibles, the righteous pulpits.

So, later, I woke in a tennis suburb.
History could happen elsewhere, I was free now
in a neat tame place whose gods were milder.
A cold dawn, but a different season.
There was the rickety fizz of starlings
trying to sing, and a grey tenderness.
I was happy then, knowing the days had changed
and that you would come back here, to this room.
You were the season, beyond winter, the first freshness.

Tom Paulin: The Strange Museum. Lo: Faber, 1980, 32-33

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