Visiting Geneva

I came to Geneva

by the bullet train,

up from church kero lamps—

it must have been the bullet train.

I rolled in on a Sunday

to that jewelled circling city

and everything was closed

in the old-fashioned way.

In the city of Palais

and moored Secretariat

I arrived in spring when

the Ferraris come out

but John Calvin, unforgiver

in your Taliban hat

you pervade bare St Peters

in la France protestante,

refuge of the Huguenots,

Courtauld, Pierrepoint, Haszard,

boers Joubert and Marais,

Brunel’s young Isambard

and their black segmented lord

Rohan, curled on his tomb lid:

roi ne puis, sujet ne daigne

that Perfect Captain said.

Calvin, padlock of the sabbath,

your followers now protect you:

predestination wasn’t yours, they claim,

nor were the Elect you,

but: when you were God

sermons went on all day

without numen or presence.

Children were denied play.

I loved your moral snobbery

but the spirits you relied on

turned atheist long ago.

Come to Italy, messer John.

roi ne puis, sujet ne daigne: I can’t be king, I scorn to be subject (motto of the Dukes de Rohan)

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