By – Joanne Smyth

Your face is a little like summer, I think;
Stable-keeper, stable-sleeper, boy of sunbrown dreams.
Days I hovered at my window,
sex-struck with the knowledge of you held in my nostrils
like some primordial treasure, eau de homme –
the residue of your exertions rising from the stain of
your flesh like dew.

With easel and paintbrush I made first move,
proving the depths of my obsession by pretending
to know you better than you knew yourself,
redefining aspects of you with a Guassian flourish,
the back of the knee and the indent set above your lips,
for no better reason than that it pissed you off
to see yourself contained, to hate your container.
And then you cried out, and we scuffled, amidst haybales
and lowing, lowly beasts; you stableboy and I king,
and I lord and master and faster, faster…

A bitter lover, me, with a bite like winter –
frosty fingerings and that morning you smell like flowers,
fuchsia lilac honeysuckle foxglove snowdrop
and all waning now, in the aftermath of May.

We draw lines, we accept roles.
Wagner quotes: “All the world’s a stage.”

I, Ludwig, Ludwig II –

King of Bavaria.
Son of a mad man.
Possibly a fairytale.
Definitely a fairy.

You, Hornig –

A consort, consorting.
Conveniently cocksure.

Wagner says I’m a brilliant poet.
Father says I might be mad.

Wagner says insanity is in my blood,
inescapable as operatic destiny.

Father says evil smells like nightshade
and stalks phantasms with clawed old-man hands.

I have had many boys and I taught them many things,
Of palaces and fairytales, of princesses and kings!
I taught them how to bow and smile and how to speak in court,
I taught them how good King Arthur laughed and loved and fought.

What lovely things are legends, and the marvels heroes do!
Call me a romantic but I believe every word is true!
Heroes honest and truthful; strong, devoid of malice.
I would welcome such bold men to stay within my palace!

I would lead them through my grand ballrooms and past my pretty toys
I’d take them to my chambers, and show them all my pretty boys.
I’d be sure to make them comfortable and keep them nicely dressed,
And I might even make love to them, if I were so possessed!

Why, I’m filled with clever notions, quite exploding at the seams!
Hornig, my dear lover, let me share with you my dreams!         IV.
Ball games on a tangerine afternoon: racquets
swooping in lazy arabesques through sweat-stifled
air and your puff-pant-puffing audible above the
scrape of our boots. By the stands Wagner (forty
eight, sexless, brilliant) skims his latest waltz.
The crowd’s a-scream but in the backpocket of my
brain I’ve a premonition of white sheets and nightshade —
all scritching, itching, bitching…
Call it male intuition.

That night you held me close in a staccato of rainscream.
Spindles of your thoughts perforated mine: a fearful reaction
to expectation, approbation, masturbation — but all I recall
now is a crush of cotton and the way you looked in gray.
Sometimes a castle, sometimes a fortress; twice I mistook
you for granite. The precipice of your spine retained
my fingertips, and I wept, unashamed, for all beautiful things.

One day, Hornig, we will steal away to a lofty tower
and converse in mime, as fairytale lovers must.

I will seduce you in sideglances,
in breath,
in fingers caught in fingers,
in threat of kisses,
in smiles and sneers:
a babel of gestures.

Poets can analyse the architecture of love all they like,
pare it back to the pith and then call it heavy,
formless as liquid,
transparent as glass,
but in the end it is only water, and I am bathing in your arms.

Of course I know I’m wicked, I have a naughty streak,
That makes the governors angry. Oh how they rave and weep!
They caution me on money, but it’s such a stupid thing!
I tell them, If I was a sparrow, would you clip my wing?

And if I was a sparrow, would you let me fly?
Or would you keep me all locked up ‘til I was near to die?
Why it’s such an awful cruelty to give me all these rules,
I dare say that my parliament is full of grumpy fools.

They say that I must marry, which will be lovely fun,
I’d like a pretty wife that I could call my own!
She and I will fall in love and build fairytale towers
While you, beloved Hornig, can shower us in flowers.

And I think I’ll call her Elsa — that will make Wagner grin!
(But I am starting to tire; it’s so hard to be a King.)

This season promises an early thaw. I shan’t complain;
for winter never made me weep, although it’s twisted you,
gripped your wrist behind your back and worked the marrow raw.
Your big hands have grown gravid with the onus of history;
mine conspicuously light of love’s labour. Don’t you know
passion’s a fashion, wonderboy? What of Lust? What of Trust?
Child, metal is a stalwart thing, yet forever makes it rust.

Call it a seasonal disorder, this lethargy of mine:
not a challenge by any means, just a vague disinclination
to screw. November’s sun lags frostily across your skin,
a falling vest semaphores a sultry invitation — but truth
be told you’ve tired of this: your addiction’s outgrown me
like one of those gross shirts you parade about in.

Misshapen and forever fraying. Yesterday in a fit
of pique you arrogantly claimed all your nightmares
were real. A common declaration, for my mad father
oft whispered words of treason into my nascent brain,
(his breath like nightshade trust and leaving)
saying —  Ludwig
These are your shoes.

So again… I lose.

Blue-lit by moon my blanket endows us with Siamese
proportions: a disorder of limbs, a facade of dualism,
duality — believable if it weren’t for your malachite eyes.
The arch of your arm in moonlight hangs like a ribbon or
a noose. My head feels loose and as my neck sluggishly
divulges chin-to-chest you ask me —

“Should I go?”

and my answer hurts a little, but less than I’d secretly hoped.



“Are you looking for a lover, or a fan?
Are you looking for a lover, or a sign?
Are you looking for a lover or is it really worth the bother…?
Is it really worth the bother to be mine?”

– Sophie.
(at our engagement banquet, last Monday.)

Warm cake and butter. Pie, pastries. Soup: potato and leek.
And through it all her eyes like heat, and my hand rocked in
the cradle of her lap. Some girlish pleasure sought and
found; and I run aground, unraveled–one finger, one thumb,
and these fur-lined eaves of lust…

And before you ask:

Yes.  I must.

I am Ludwig II, King of Bavaria.
You are Hornig. Convenient consort.

Your big hands
Your big boots
Are no longer useful to your King.

I like my brand new consort with her silly female brain,
Her silly pouting smile and her face so smooth and plain,
And no hint of imagination! She says she never dreams!
What a curious little creature my Sophie-Elsa seems.

Elsa keeps me occupied with big parties and big plans
And speaks of politics in strange and distant lands.
She wants to start a family and give Bavaria a heir,
(But the thought of being ‘Father’ gave me quite a scare).

Now we two are ‘together’ I rarely see the stable,
Although I’m sure I’ll go as soon as I am able,
But my Elsa is so amusing with her funny ‘girl’ ideas,
I may not return to Hornig for many many years!

And I found another boy: blonde-haired, with eyes of blue,
Who isn’t exactly Hornig, but he will have to do.

The melodrama!  The pathos!
And you thought you could withstand it!
A rock amongst men, Hornig!
More like a rock against diamond.

I’ve a temptation to eulogise our plight: the wintering of your eyes,
the withering of your desire… Secrets come and secrets go,
and what lies between us, Hornig, is as unmade as those sheets
you’ve scrambled — Your Mad Dash For Freedom —
“So be with her!” you remarked audaciously, italicised in
your wrath, questionmarks formed in the bruise of your cheeks and
punctuation becomes you, I retort from the bed, unflustered, (just
disgusted)… and then the door swings ajar and the light beyond
occludes the promise of return.

That night I see figures in darkness, mistaking the loose hang of
a jacket or perhaps a squat cluster of pillows for some sinister
phantasm; my imagination gifts them with beady eyes and razor
teeth and sometimes even voices (whispering, ‘the horror, the horror’)
and ejaculating jets of ectoplasm into the bedsheets by my
crotch — I wake up crushed by the knowledge that this, too, excites me:
Father you made me low, but this is as far as I can go, and then on
Monday I sleep peacefully, finally, exhausted and alone.

Rolling over only to keep on rolling.  And this is torture too,
this eternal revolution of my head in your dream.  So I scream…

…and then on Friday we’re acting like nothing’s happened,
like you’ve never laid drugstruck in the haze of my sex and
mumbled my undoing into the raw fissures of my skin.

All the world’s a stage.  Right?


This is a seasonal unraveling and it’s almost autumn:
the sun flounders to its zenith and the leaves are rust-shattered —
what better signifier for the inevitable combustion of us?
But already the furnace of my anger is running low
on fuel. I say, eulogise; I say, we died, and you cried,
and when I beat you black and blue up and down the
stables you take it like a goddamned man, which
is more than I can say for you when you’re whimpering
on all fours. Forgive me this sentimentality but we do remember
you fondly, wonderboy, as the Little Stablehand Who Could.

I think I can I think I can I think
I can I think
I’m falling.

Sophie is Elsa
and always

Sophie doesn’t like games
when she doesn’t
know the rules.

And she hates opera.

And when I talk about you
her mouth grows tight
and wrinkled as a crone’s.

Elsa says I’ve ruined everything,
I’ve turned Bavaria to mud.

Elsa says they mean to kill me;
for my palaces, my dreams.

Elsa says madness is in my blood,
inescapable as wedlock.

I am not very sure
of her.

I miss you.

But I am King Ludwig II of Bavaria,
and I sting with pride.         XI.
Call it fate: we cross paths. The course of action clear:
you snub and I sneer, to spite my truant body and my
whittled down heart. I’m ropeable and you’re gropeable
and I barely cope, unable to diffuse the tension in the burrow
of your thighs. Barechested you arrested my wrists and
tucked them against my sides and the proximity made me
gasp, rasp, grasp at straws before your deft punchline
crushed my jaw.
“Evening the score?”
Then you rode me raw.
(Hornig, I’m sore.)

And I leave dog-tired and suddenly old. Now the rules are
unclear and I fear what lies between the lines (beneath the sheets).
Now it’s Spring and you’ve sprung, back to your old life,
your old shape, my fingertip imprints eroding from the mold
of your skin. And again I find myself shouting at corridors
in near darkness, my fists taut and trembling as your cock.

That evening I follow fonder memories to the waterside,
where dusk reels a heavy net of stars, (where once, the night was ours!)
Where once you crawled monkey-nimble through the branches overhead,
dared me with insolent eyes to protest at the precariousness
of your position.
Your barefoot hero.

I opened my arms.

And you fell.

A mocking descent, the way
a bird will plummet headlong toward the earth then,
at the last second, lift from its kamikaze dive
and wrest clear into the open sky.

By a hollow I find old poems immortalised,
scratched with a knife’s blade into rock.


is walking along
the beach.
his hand.
is holding