In Response to Mrs. Ashdown, Who Asked the Poet If He Might Sometime Paint Her Face?

She blushes like a duchess
rendered breathless
in a December picture

The artist’s tincture
a blasphemy eclipsing
the curvature

Of her chaste lips
bending them over
a breath whispering

                              ‘Is this the way to his
                                           bedchamber?’

(My Paphian girl whose eyes burn
with Promethean fire, paint
into me your most hidden desire!)

Inside, it’s winter
no matter how thick
setting suns litter

Her glimpses with, if even
seasons can contend
with me for her affection

                              ‘Is this the way to his
                                           bedchamber?’

She lingers, her fingers
spreading a mouth’s sea
parting my studio with these

Words, words she moves
through effortlessly
each wet with something to prove

Knowing her aim for it
will land her in my heart
and my head, saying it

                              ‘Is this the way to his
                                           bedchamber?’

Asking my servants if
they can help her with
the mission, if it’s him

The poet, who sleeps alone
under the home’s
brightest window? The only

One left alight when
silence draws its curtains
over the eyes of night?

                              ‘Is this the way to his
                                           bedchamber?’

Ascendant, her feet
dove-white signs climbing
my stair’s final flight

Mrs. Ashdown keeps
her question close, speaks
it softly into ears

My footmen leave open
to consume, eager to hear her
sweet words dripped like honey

                              ‘Is this the way to his
                                           bedchamber?’

Warning her of its danger
she ignores my staff’s
worries of my anger

And sauntering past them
the painted lady sends
all into gasps, opening

The ancient door enfolding
my sanctuary, holding
only a candle and curiosity, hoping

                              ‘Is there any room for me
                                           in this bedchamber?’