Constantinople, 531

Mosaic in the basilica of St Vitalis

A demon doubtless walked those rooms at night,
Without a dinner in his belly, not
A chalice of sweet wine to keep him up,

Far more an apparition than a man,
The scholæ said, when he was reading late —
Those codices where Christ is merely God

Who slipped into a body that would serve —
Or stalking quite alone through empty halls
Pavilions unfolding as he went,

Where only statues maybe raised eyebrows
When he had reached the Chalke gate, and stopped,
Confused, as though he stumbled from a dream:

Always the Hippodrome was there to see,
Always the Octagon to leave behind
When her rich mouth had drunk him wholly down.

He couldn’t sit. He couldn’t keep his head,
Which vanished as he tramped the night away
And re-appeared, a lump of bloody meat

Just lugged into a kitchen down below:
No eyes, not even when white pulp came back,
No halo spinning round his curly hair.

One smile: an earthquake would shake Antioch
And hell would stir itself and take them all.
An itchy nose: the Nile would start to flood

And never flow back round its muddy reeds.
Only his wife could get him into bed.
Only mosaics looked him in the eye.