Sleep by day, guard by night the steps at Lafranchi
Until after dinner when Byron and I write together –
Up the marble stairs to his study, the orange tree at midnight.
Gin and water on the veranda as we write at dusk:
His Don Juan, my Diary of a Dog in Heat (Book I).
Byron thinks it my best prose yet but beyond the title,
Can I really hold a gentleman’s attention?
Will the critics care that I’m canine?
Amongst friends in this menagerie: the monkey and mastiff,
Nine horses for his five carriages, one falcon, a pair of cats
One of whom was at Cambridge with his Lordship
And told the peafowl (who told me) that Byron kept a bear there
Before he woke up famous, before the Separation
Before he became the Lucifer of literature
And left London for good.
With the help of sardines, Byron has taught me to write
I’m quite proficient though I can’t cross my Ts
Still, he calls me the paragon of animals
Only I have seen our Lord’s deformity, the crippled foot
He sometimes calls the “externalization” of his soul
Only I attend each nocturnal routine:
The baths, the mirror-gazing, the naked guests in Venetian masks.
When I’m silent too long, his Lordship reminds me
That the public only knows Byron the poet
But what they want is Byron the man
Only I can narrate the night of the stabbing
All seven servants were in quite a state
When the Countess’s brother, bloodied, stumbled to the parlor
Where his Lordship was composing at the time
Late to his side, I was ashamed.
An English bulldog in Italy is like a fish out of oil
If that’s the expression? (Note: ask L.B.)
London’s fog was good for my airways
But the air in Pisa reeks of garlick
That obnoxious spice, as ahorrent as Mr. Shelley said
As if his Lordship would even know
Living, as he does, on biscuits and diuretics
Our Lord frets too much about his waistline
As a result, table scraps are paltry here in the palace
But I can’t complain so long as I sing for my supper
And that supper is sardines.
– Breckenridge, Colorado (7/2011)