By evening when the flower sellers have gone,
the tinkle of water from the Bernini fountain drifts
into the room. The air is warm for winter,
yet the wildflowers that Severn filled the carriage with,
bunch after bunch picked on the journey from Naples,
are now dead—the most beautiful pressed between
the leaves of a book. The only roses bloom white and beeless
on the ceiling, the only light is from a candle
that flutters and dips in the breeze,
its odour rancid, unpleasant. On the bedside table
Keats has placed the carnelian egg that Fanny
cooled her hands with, the travelling cap lined with a silk
that scalds his scalp. Five haemorrhages in nine days,
yet he is allowed only a morsel of bread and a single anchovy.
Tomorrow, Clark will bleed him again.
Tonight Keats is alone in the midnight hours,
his thoughts flickering like the candle flame:
this terrible coughing must be what Tom had to endure;
that breath rhymes perfectly with death
is the greatest irony; while money should never
prevent a man from marrying. If only Fanny
had come to Italy with me. Young Severn,
bless his patience, would not give me laudanum today,
but has rigged up—ingenious trick—
a row of candles connected by a thread.
When one candle snuffs out, the next one spits
and crackles into life, then rises
with the hue of marigold, as if a field of oats
is waving in the winnowing wind, this flame
burning on and on, into the posthumous night.
© Andy Kissane 2011