Singular light of a queen’s eye soldier, tales gone down to oceanic vaults cause whales to turn in the sun for you so they will say, on deck, as they stand in the wind with their eyes well-salted. Creation of empire that thing we do, like bees intricately lacing and stamping and dancing a pattern; this is what a man must do his moves, describing the path to honey. Salt, acid, eagles and whips resonant in your gaze; whatever our true measure, none of us wholly known nor unknown. you, as much as any can claim to have seized the catch of the day and the flowers, and the storm. It’s for another time to discuss empire’s values, costs and failures for today, there is a sun to remember singular, light of a queen’s eye.
On the passing of HRH Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Day 9, Poem 2: Box of Spiders
Truly to know one’s place in the world, ah, there’s a box of spiders. Connie and I in the Delta bathroom giggling about the source of our ‘royal-meeting’ regalia Goodwill velvet, secondhand silks not that anyone had bothered to send us a memo before we packed carry-on for economy flights across a continent. The ‘heritage’ staff charged with our care sneered and dangled our perdiem cheques, too bad the banks are closed for the weekend. 'Smile,' I whispered to Connie, 'and walk. Dinner’s on me.' We’d only then met, I had better connections, she'd been flying all day, but she winked and swept around as if towing a train, and we paraded out. Those people, I could hear my father’s voice are beside the point. All weekend, they hurled damp, leggy things at us, their fingers green and twitching at the injustice of bureaucratic life; for us, engraved invitations and praise for our creations; for them, to have to serve dirty Indians, worse than that, poets. All weekend, we smiled and wove gossamer between them and us. Connie in her tophat and trousers shaking the hand of a Prince of the Realm and his wife, with a glint in her eye, and I gave them a book I’d handbound on the plane which they swiftly passed to waiting staff to inspect and doubtless dump, unopened. But his father had taught him well, too, and when the handlers signalled audience ended he clung to us, twinkling, and teased out the time enchanted, delighted to hold up the line. At dinner, the spiders had diligently placed Connie at the elbow of Tim head of detail for Scotland Yard, ready should she pull from her remarkable pants a savage weapon. To be fair by the third course, he was dazzled or I misjudge the line between duty and fun, between acting and falling. She was beacon bright, I the voyeur witness. We kept our glamour for the table, while the bureacrats ate sandwiches out in the hall. One stalked me to the hotel deck where genteel smoking blued the night and hissed, ‘Hope you’re having a nice holiday (on the taxpayer’s dime)’ Who me? I ham-mimed, and purred ‘This is my work.’ And turned back to watch Tim cup his smoke in the hand of my friend. Yes, this is my work. Might as well enjoy it, I mused, inspired by the way the young prince, in presenting our prizes, had savoured our names in his mouth, got them right, held our gaze signalled elevation as our right, well-earned. This then, perhaps a glimpse of that hoary word Commonwealth enacted. However tired I might be, he too had his oiks and pinch-spirited entourage, with the added prospect of a long road home from this place where we both have our ties where we wove, for brief moments, connection however forced, potentially human, we met: He, in Prince Edward Island, a namesake and I, in my grandfathers’ realm, Abegweit.
Connie is the late, great, Indigenous poet Connie Fife, whom I met in Charlottetown, PEI, in 2000, on the occasion of our both receiving the Prince & Princess Edward Prize in Aboriginal Literature, awarded to celebrate the marriage of Edward and Sophie, since named Earl&Countess of Wessex.
Abegweit is the Mi’gmaq name of Prince Edward Island, and means ‘Cradle in the Waves.’