What a prize prick he’s made of himself,
trudging a dozen furlongs across the plain
to the widowed heiress’s country estate
just to be turned away at the lodge, to stare
from the wrong side of the locked gates.
The plan – admit it – was to worm his way in:
to start as a lowly gofer and drudge, then rise
from gardener to footman to keeper of hawks –
her hooded merlin steady on his wrist –
to suddenly making his way upstairs after dark,
now soaping her breasts in the roll-top bath
with its clawed gold feet, now laying a trail
of soft fruit from her pillow to his, his tongue
now coaxing the shy nasturtium flower of love.
Here he is in the dream, gilt-framed, a gent
in her late husband’s best brown suit,
the loyal schnauzer gazing up at his eyes.
And here’s the true him tramping the verge,
frayed collar and cuffs, brambles for hair,
the toes of his boots mouthing like grounded fish.
A pride of lions roams the walled parkland
between this dogsbody life and the next.
Simon Armitage is the poet laureate. This poem is included in Lives of Houses edited by Kate Kennedy and Hermione Lee, newly published by Princeton University Press.
This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special 2021