Day 9: His Realm Departed

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.’

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