Irma shows me how it works here.
We slouch behind the ramparts,
bored sentries daring the horizon
to send us its barbarians.
Just after sunrise, the mist
begins to rise from their encampment,
reluctant as a new lover.
We catch a stab of bacon.
Spearheads flicker and twist
in the sunbeams piercing the valley.
We hear no horses yet or chanting
above the wind whisking its leaves.
Irma points out the priestesses.
Hoisting their hems to their chests,
they whisper their little white lives
into the wind.
Irma has forgotten the rituals.
‘The kyrie, eleison no longer
had a form we could preserve.’
She looks no-one in the eye.
A blue whip of wren plucks
a mayfly from the breeze. Clouds
thicken in the east. Irma swaps
her weight from heel to heel.
Her eyes drop. ‘My son rejected this
hours of boredom, seconds of terror
casting of dynastic lots
in favour of bordellos and surf.’
Irma is reminding me that Justinian
conquered the one remaining Vandal
on his deathbed when thunder drags
our eyes back towards the valley.
Under my breastplate, sweat. A pulse.
I wonder if I left my home unlocked
and did I feed the greyhounds.
Irma has forgotten me. And I her.
I’m haunted by forest air I never
breathed, breaking waves I never
swam, lips I never kissed
enough. Irma falls. I hear a crow.