The Secret Pages: On the altar

On the altar

The curls of Nero’s youthful beard,
housed in a golden box (studded with pearls),
were offered on the altar of Capitoline Jupiter.

Dad summoned me to the electric altar,
the shavings caught in a metal waste bin (cream painted),
invoking an unwipable grin at manhood.

Then I let it grow again, a Jacob
goating his cheeks for the eldest’s portion,
until the face beneath became the mask.

To ward the great crab, the altar is dressed
with garlands of drug days, dignity and sleep;
ready for the hairs from a razorless defacing.



Jacob: Genesis XXVII.

The face beneath the mask: in the Max Beerbohm story The Happy Hypocrite Lord George Hell, a notorious libertine, falls in love with a sweet maiden. To woo her he puts on a mask of a pure face. When, years later, she persuades him to remove it, he finds his own face has become conformed to the purity of the mask.

The great crab: the fourth sign of the zodiac.


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