The King and Queen

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This poem first appeared in New Writing Scotland 29

 

Tell me that story you tell

of the mermaid who beguiled the stars.

 

There was a mermaid on a dolphin’s back,

whose voice was so crystalline pure

that wild waves were brought to rest

and stars came down from their spheres

to hear her song.

 

Now tell me of the babe you stole,

the changeling you would not let

into my humble entourage.

 

Your humble entourage, indeed,

but I’ll let it pass and tell my tale.

 

There was a lady I gossiped with

on Indian shores, watched ships sail by

with fulsome sails.

 

She would fetch me luxurious merchandise,

her belly swelling like the ships’ sails,

until the babe ripped her fabric

and her journey stilled.

 

I took her newborn boy

for our friendship’s sake,

and for the trifles she’d brought me.

I would not give him up for the price

of all these fairy lands.

 

And so, we quarrelled.

 

I remember it well,

the night we spoke too much of lovers past,

our fights fired in the forgeries of jealousy,

the night I told faithful Robin

to pour love juice in your sleeping eyes.

 

Ah yes, the night I loved the man

translated to an ass, that monstrous angel

who woke me from my flowery bed,

a bestial doting.

 

Oh, the mischief of our night-tripping fairies,

the confusion of the forest,

moth dust, blossom petals, mustard seeds,

and cobwebs light as trifles.

 

In the end, we flew off together,

swifter than the wandering moon,

to encompass the globe

and resume our regal adventuring.

 

Yet still I think of the stars who shot

to hear that mermaid sing.

 

If men can read the future in their patterns

what could have been read on such a night,

when the stars had left their stations?

 

Were portents lost?  Were accidents made?

Would the mother of my darling boy still breathe?

 

We cannot concern ourselves with mortal ways,

proud Queen, or accidents from heaven.

The parts we play are between the earth and skies,

and if we begin to understand the stars

we must close our eyes.

 

You are right, sweet King,

and now I shall lie easy on my petal-bed;

the love I gaze upon this time is no illusion.

 

Now tell me one more story

before the fires of the stars die out.

 

Perhaps, if we speak of our wanderings,

they might dismantle their constellations

and come down to press their ears

against the treetops.

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