The Mystery of Lovers Loan

Ange Mlinko

“Look for the wyvern,” Chris told me. “It’s not on the maps.”

So I set off to find the secret footpath between high walls

snaking through the Grange. Isn’t it bad enough these apps

leave me in dead ends, then drop their signals,

as when I was given a fenced-in graveyard as a shortcut?

The markers were taller than men, and everyone here knows

that stone is unpredictable. Rubble rebels, as in what

closed the Radical Road (“high risk of rockfall”) and whose

“unconforming” nature changed the face of geology.

They sing as they avalanche austerely down the prominence

of their couchant volcano, a former flame. I came to see

this city reared itself out of sandstone—the wyvern’s sibilance.

It’s semiotically rich, a theorist would say: how the volcano

gives rise to the castle, a stronghold on the peak, while en face

across the Royal Mile sits the decorative pile where we know

soft power mounts a charm offensive—a woman’s palace

with a physic garden. It was usurped from the monks

who made their peaceful anchorage in the lee of Arthur’s Seat.

Bloodred rubies of Mary Stuart’s rosary glitter as chunks

of history fall from the Abbey roof. Where the kings eat,

a holy stag set its flaming hoof. And where there’s murder

it’s always in the chambers of the heart: the beds are soft.

Someone should have told Mary to be alerter

to the wyverns. Rocks can be scaled and fealty sloughed.

“Look for the wyvern.” So I go to the poison garden

where the belladonna is kept in cages, though the pollinator

roams freely in it. In fact, shadows, like a pardon,

widen their bee stripes on the path as the time grows later

and hemlock vies with the castor bean’s claim

to importance as assassin versus state executioner.

And now the owls and church bells utter the selfsame

chime, though not on purpose. Nor do the dead, I’m sure,

play chess except as two dates reach a stalemate.

The grammar of romance demands ellipses, perhaps . . .

as “loan” for “lane” gets at the glamour (same root,

in Scots) of a temporary state. It’s not on the maps.

Ange Mlinko is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Venice, and a forthcoming book of nonfiction, Difficult Ornaments. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Florida.
Originally published:
June 10, 2024


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