SILENT AS A LANTERN (Stephen Oliver)

Flame is cupola. See it erupt from
shock-blown window frames of tall buildings.

             Boisterous as applause
exploding from theatre galleries. Observe flame’s

upward curve, elegant as the carved prows
of Portuguese caravels           
Blackened, rectangular
buildings, hollowing before uplifted crests of flame.

Imprisoned within this vortex,
colour bends to whitened heat—oxygen sucked
from the bellicose furnace.

             Flame over distance is voyage, prophecy.

Death throes of military campaigns;
otherwise, and always near, armies command it.

When campfires died, they marched, and flame
gripped cathedrals by the throat in a wreckage of light.

Sails dissolved into cloudbank, the false sunset
of cannon fire flickered, went out, silent as a lantern.

Whole cities became ash for archaeologists.
             Flame is siren. Gérard de Nerval,
strolling the Palais-Royal Gardens, his pet lobster tied
with a pale, blue ribbon.

             Gargoyles danced prettily on the ramparts
of Notre Dame for him.

One of the poets known as les bousingos who came
             together in riotous company over
potent rum punches, and ice creams served in skulls—

Théophile Dondey, who ‘wore glasses in his sleep
             so that he might see his dreams.’

             Borel, ‘with his feline teeth,
melancholy eyes fixed on the spaniel at his feet’,
             lilac scented beard, the mouth, an exotic flower.

On one black and white night, Gérard de Nerval
             hanged himself in the Rue de la Vieille-Lanterne
from a sewer grating with an old apron cord;

he saw it as the Queen of Sheba’s thigh garter—
a few scribbled notes on Aurélia found in his pocket.

He sought the ‘eternal feminine’ in the Lebanon,
Istanbul and Cairo, fled the black sun of melancholia.

             ‘At times he lived gaily as starlings’.

Stephen Oliver – Australasian poet and author of 17 volumes of poetry. Travelled extensively. Signed on with the radio ship The Voice of Peace broadcasting in the Mediterranean out of Jaffa, Israel. Free-lanced as production voice, narrator, newsreader, radio producer, columnist, copy and feature writer, etc. Lived in Australia for 20 years. Currently living in NZ. His long narrative poem, Intercolonial, published by Puriri Press, Auckland, NZ (2013). A transtasman epic. Regular contributor of creative non-fiction and poems to Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian and New Zealand Literature. Poems translated into German, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. Forthcoming: Writing To The Wire Anthology, edited by Dan Disney and Kit Kelen, University of Western Australia Publishing, 2016.