Antonio, Duke of Milan

I was the one who met with generals

negotiated pay and bonuses

to keep the city safe from our own men.


Everyday he made less effort

and bought more books.


Not that there weren’t good ones,

An Atlas of the Indies, six feet long,

large enough to sit around at dinner.


Or a book of hours, size of an apricot,

more gold leaf than letters.

It took a monk sixteen years

on an island in the Northern sea

working each day except

when winter froze his ink.


But most had covers sagging off,

brown leper’s skin,

yet he had them carried

through the city under escort

like statues of the Virgin during festivals.


I said, ‘You need to think about your people.’

But it was like he’d eaten all that dust.

His wife died and he didn’t even notice.


Malcontents started to print pamphlets.

The Duke as a necromancer in long robes

talking to the devil, lying with harlots.

I showed mercy, split a few nostrils,

cut off ears, but the damage was done.


By then he was mad.

He wanted a library,

a hall of books anyone could use.

We’d have the Papal armies on us in a month.


I said we couldn’t afford it,

anyway we’ve printing presses now;

books are getting cheaper

soon every house will have one.


But he said books were only half the point,

that people needed space to think:

went on about shared rooms where the baby’s crying

and there’s shouting through the walls.

As if those people read.


So I gave him space.


Put him on a boat and shipped him off,

although I let him have his wailing brat;

let him keep her dressed in white lace now.

from Soon Every House Will Have One (Smith|Doorstop 2014), © Holly Hopkins 2014, used by permission of the author.

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