On the edge of so many paintings – the dwarf,
the blackamoor, the hound. And now
your ‘person from China’, come up the stairs
out of the dark of some unmemoried place
to lounge in this hallway and hold back
the curtain, as those painted others do.

An endlessly codified dynasty, all duration,
has given the person this patience to stand
as a casual sentinel, subtly disrupting
the everyday with his silence, stroking
the curtain’s fold as if it were a hound’s
silken ear in the fingers of the dwarf.

You have to live up to his presence. Such
an attendant demands you should banquet,
not heat a ready meal in the microwave
then dine from a tray on your lap. As long as
you don’t try to leave, it is guaranteed
the blackamoor will comfort you with flagons.

‘There’s a person from China in the hall,
and so you won’t eat at all, waiting
for service or assault or the carnival
to which he’s just precursor, knowing
those other figures in the margin’s cast
but not yet nominated to your central role.