In the Generalissimo’s Bedroom

Palacio Real Del Pardo, Residence of Francisco Franco, Dictator of Spain, 1939–1975

For someone who favoured
firing squads, garrotting
and secret police,
these beige walls
and plush pile carpets
a suburban veneer
masking the chill
of hard old stones.

The bed is huge,
flattering the little man
who slept here
nearly four decades,
reclining under gold damask
like a medieval monarch,
never troubled
by dawn executions,
never disturbed
after bedtime
by pleas for clemency.

Only extranjeros
talk loudly
in the Caudillo’s bedroom.
Spaniards whisper,
and so do I,
as if the cameras still spy
with his pitiless eyes.

I wonder what it was like
near the end
with him tucked up
in his kingly bed,
turning rotten,
stinking from gangrene,
surrounded by flunkies,
while the Spain he created,
his beloved, savage,
remorseless mistress
was herself slipping
ever so slowly away,
unlikely to outlive
her paramour for long,
but like him
fighting to the finish,
no quarter asked
none given,
for every curdled rattle

of stolen breath.

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