When he was young, the sweetest nothings whispered in his ear –
the ace of Hearts was up his sleeve, the magic mirror clear,
and fortune was his darling till his twenty second year;
but rising three and twenty, with the bloom still on the rose
that winked from his lapel, he heard a low noise, very close,
as if some new, unpleasant scent was tickling his nose.
It wasn't like a wolfish howl, nor like the serpent's hiss,
nor like that pregnant whoosh of Cupid's arrows when they miss,
for he had heard a moan or two, but never one like this;
something like the mindless sorrow of a midnight train
or what escapes from lips before the leap in lover's lane —
a tinny, mordant counterpoint that echoed in his brain.
He heard it, then, in pauses interspersing barroom chatter
in upscale dives where hogs got slaughtered while the pigs grew fatter,
yet when he tried to pin it down he found his wits would scatter
before a foolish answer mulish ears received as true.
But was it ancient wisdom that some ancient linguist knew?
Did it have a color? If so, was that color blue?
He tracked it with a Ouija board, but every shade declined,
and lost its thread of logic in the mazes of his mind,
a Disney castle Escher, Freud, and Kafka had designed.
He muddled on through shallow books as callow poets bickered,
and sought it like a fairy light within a swamp — it flickered
as the eternal Footman held his tattered coat, and snickered.
In the weeds, uncertain where the scruffy ball had bounced,
the match was called for rain, the final score left unannounced:
as he wept and wondered who had won and who was trounced,
the secret teased him with a flirty glimpse, then off it flounced;
and Cheshire cats kept smiling down at him before they pounced,
for life seems full of moaning if the meaning's mispronounced.