Hermitage Museum, Amsterdam

Three crosses for a city emblem, Amsterdam,
level canals drew to frantic pumps on the shore:
dehydrate the peat or drown the bedsheet cattle.
No Venetian glimmer under bridges, dark reflected

rooftops and bare espalier: February hardly screened.
In a courtyard, two raised fields dissected by a path,
and open crocus flicked yellow pollen on the grass,
jackdaw calls like pickaxes denting ice, and echoed

on unrendered walls: the rich Dutch signalled
earthliness with naked brick. The place where
unmarried women once worked bleaching laundry
replicated with old and young trees at opposite ends.

Stone seats, gravel paths, each harmonious element
measured into presence. The courtyard had no time,
winter mattered less and some remembered sentence came:
I am gay and not and that other part was not offended.

Dutch women pulled metal chairs off rattly stacks
and sat between sheathed umbrellas that had not been
put away and talked in underwater vowels as the shadows
of rapid birds switched direction in sunlit corners.

(Courtyard designed by Michael Van Gesser)

The Gardener at the Villa Medici

All day long sun on stone, Rome melted
into shadow. The private aqueduct, Borghese
neighbours, empty box parterres vanished to
the horizon. Dusk simplified drawn hedges
and in the class close observation countered
mannerism, boredome surfaced as horniness.
Hounds took down the forest boars, claw marks
recorded the kill. Drawing room candelabra spilt
hard wax on spongey buttocks. A worn path
crossed the grass: garden shears squeaked
and tapped, a free arm swept cut leaves.
Never again would I chase a prize tulip once
my cuffs ruffled his apron, uprooted a dense
parsnip from the soil: the maze never fed
the kitchen. Bird crap on my collar I returned
to the villa, feigned interest in sweet violets
and my toes unclenched inside my boots.

(‘View of the Gardens at the Villa Medici’ by Michel-Martin Drölling)

© All text and images belong to Sean Swallow. All work is protected by copyright.