The Fountain

Fountain With Neptune And Dolphins (from Architectura Curiosa Nova), Georg Andreas Böckler


The great burnished windows of the sanatorium stare down

Across the torrid hedgerows, foaming, overflowing; turgid with emerald flies whose drunken throats whine out the dying anthems of summer

Through the colonnades, where the swollen leaves of chestnut rust and turn inwards with the habitual dexterity of nicotine-stained fingers curling around a cigarette


Over the decaying orchard, starlings virulent in the mildew-laden boughs that shade the sullen labourer

Who spits dog-ends and rakes the putrid crop into smouldering heaps, the smoke trailing across the lawn to the fountain.

The writhing silver fountain! Pale shoulders of water endlessly collapsing under their own weight

Cascading over the marble base and dripping down tendrils of honeysuckle and vine that clasp the lichen-tanned breasts of arcane fawns and satyrs.


I am a sickly child, sickly and consumptive, subject to night sweats and fever chills, helpless in my lassitude. 

Passing my days swathed in an invalid carriage, coughing at the fountain’s edge. Setting out a small white yacht on the foaming waters with a bamboo cane 

While behind her gloves and gauze my foreign governess flirts shamelessly with the hired hand. 


Yet when a sudden gust convulses the foliage and douses my cheek in spume, I’m carried away 

Plunging the vast ocean under a billowing sky, braced at the wheel of a magnificent clipper ship 

My face showered with spray, dolphins racing at the prow and gulls crying in the wake of the thundering canvas.


The horror that rose at my window this morning! A starling fluttered up against the pane, assaulting the glass like a great black moth. 

Pressing close, I saw that half the diseased head was eaten away; parasitic outgrowths submerged the eyes, putrescent abscesses bit through to the skull

The feathers’ once translucent sheen was infested with a grimy must, as though the apple blight had taken wing to corrupt some second home. 


‘Get away! Filthy misshapen thing’, but the creature was barely distracted by the governess’s cries.

As if intent on butchering its obscene reflection, it continued clawing and pecking at the pane until beaten away by the labourer’s hands

Wheeling out of sight behind the hedgerows, leaving his eyes deriding mine, and mine beyond on the fountain swaying through a torpid haze.


Will the weather break today? Mouldy clouds breed at the horizon and threaten to enclose the sky. The wind twists up worms of dust off dry paths.

Silent now, the governess watches the labourer mixing quicklime in rusty cans and kneels to rinse clots of chalk from his ruddy hands.


The small yacht founders beyond the cane, tangled in the stalks and leaves that choke the fountain’s waters, crimson as spittle from sclerotic lungs.

Across the lawn, a corroded valve strains briefly against a callused fist before the drain cover falls back, raising a universe of dust up broken arms of sunlight. 


Hypnotised, anaesthetised, I must have dozed, overcome by wood smoke fumes and the drone of flies

For when I awoke, she’d pushed me back before the window of my room and reflected in the glass the fountain shone as never before.

Suspended in time, motionless, luminous arcs of foam burned silver in the sun, engulfing the pane in waves of bright enamel. 

Then suddenly the blinding surface sheared and peeled away, exposing gaping holes of darkness: I stared through the reflection of my eyes into the abyss behind the mirror of existence.


She slid the door and pushed me in. Adhered by static to the pane, a small feather drifted down and settled on my brow until softly brushed away by her velvet hand. 

A few last drops of spray carried on the wind. Funny how one caught her cheek at the very angle a tear would fall.


Blistered palms cooled by the smoothness of the marble, he watches evening drain the sky. A dog-end spits and dies upon the leaf-strewn surface.

Two swings of a lime-caked boot heel crack the seal. Water spouts from a headless satyr, snaking frictionless as mercury across the parched lawn.

The bonfire chokes on the wet detritus dredged from the empty basin. He stoops to scrape up a small diseased corpse into a dirty sail and casts it on the flames.

In a gas-lit upper window, a silhouette peels off its gown and gloves as languidly as a serpent sheds an outworn skin. 


That night I coughed and burnt as never before, but not a drop of sweat would come. All the waters have run dry.

And I dreamed the clipper ship capsized amongst the arctic floes, and as I sank in darkness, the sea above me froze

The veil of ice striated by a dying polar ray, like the spasm of rust-stained nails on a slender pearl-white shoulder.


Beyond the hedgerows wreathed in rime, husks of flies petrified in the rigging of frozen webs

Beyond skeletal drifts of leaves and the ice-scabbed apple boughs tumorous with mistletoe

The shadow of a hand is touched with gold as it draws the milky tide of quicklime across the final pane

Rendering the sanatorium’s eyes opaque, blind to the first chill frost of autumn.