David Lewis Paget
The Many Lyves Of... - Poem by David Lewis Paget
I’d never felt comfortable in that house
Not once, since we’d moved on in,
A rambling, derelict, barn of a house,
Three storeys of age-old sin.
Nobody said there’d been murders there,
Or told of the gypsy’s curse,
Three hundred years of discarded junk
And I don’t know which was worse.
The air was dank, and creepy and cold
So I opened the windows wide,
Trying to get some airflow through
To clear the smell inside.
It was musty, dusty, smelt like a tomb
With a corpse, decayed and grey,
We cleaned and scrubbed it room by room
And the smell went slowly away.
We tackled the ground floor first, we thought
We could leave upstairs til last,
The stairs were blocked with a French chaise longue
From some distant time in the past,
It was jammed hard up by the bannister rails
So it wouldn’t go up or down,
I said I’d have to pull it apart
And that sparked a Hartley frown.
Hartley was the love of my life
Who tackled that house as well,
She said it was a pig in a poke
That its real name was ‘Hell! ’
But we finally cleared a space to live
And she worked out a way to shift
That French chaise longue from the stairway by
Trying a twist and lift.
The second floor was a nice surprise
There was none of the junk and grime,
The bedrooms still remained as they’d been
Laid out in another time,
So Hartley dealt with the dust in there
While I went up for a look,
The room above was an attic room
And that’s where I saw the book.
It lay on a dusty table with
Its pages ragged and torn,
The paper a sort of parchment and
The ink, quite faded and brown.
The cover was ancient leather, cracked
And worn, as if by an age,
‘The Many Lyves of this House’ it had
Embossed, as a title page.
I cautiously opened the cover, read
The words on the parchment page,
The light in the room then turned to gloom
And a storm began to rage.
I raced on down to the ground to find
A man outside, who said,
‘For those inside, don’t seek to hide,
I say, bring out your dead! ’
And a cart stood out in the street outside
A pile of the dead in place,
The street was cobbled, not like before,
But of bitumen, no trace.
And on my door was a huge red cross
With a white and painted scrawl,
‘God, have mercy on us, ’ it read,
‘Have mercy on us all.’
And there on the floor, inside the door
Was a corpse wrapped in a sheet,
I dragged it out by the feet, no doubt,
And I left it in the street.
On climbing back to the topmost floor
I leapt and pounced on the book,
But the page had turned, and the fire burned
Before I had time to look.
London burned in the distance and
Lit up the night like day,
I didn’t know of it then, but it
Was burning the plague away,
And every page in that cursèd book
Brought a different time to bear,
‘The Many Lyves’ that this house had lived
Were all inscribed in there.
I slammed that leather cover shut
And I laid it on its face,
Then swore that I’d never open it
While the Lord would lend me grace.
And Hartley, dragged from her cleaning chores
She never could understand,
Why I put a torch to that ancient house
And burnt it to the ground.
26 March 2015
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