I’m too much with family now and not with child.
The man I knew is dead, he’s
gone ahead of me Into madness,
slain by now on England’s soil; he’s left me
a mingy father
who ate my mother and
a peeving, brother
who brims with womanish talk.
Elsinore now is
a procession of pantaloons.
This kingdom of visitations, this creation in a jar
that radiates not for me. It seems to me
a sour firmament casting shadows but little light.
No one recollects a goodly King who is dead,
replaced by a Brother-King whose face rots
as if it were a swollen fish,
and so Denmark rots from the head.
The Mad Prince I’d loved became a comet
and descended, to set afire
this manor — this cask of weddings
fed by funerals.
A mannish nurse, froggy bitch who
smells of rancid milk, squats by my bed
to rub emollients upon my vacant belly.
Or else she fills the air with vapors,
sulfur and pine.
She studies my piss, she means
to scrub away my tongue.
They’ve swaddled me in white—
since I am bloodless now, made
a rue-fed maiden again.
The Brother-King’s apothecary
thrusts menthol up inside me
to burn away the Prince my lover’s gifts.
The fellow lusts, I suspect,
to press his blistering lips
where late my dear dead Hamlet did.
I’ve only a woman’s dispensation:
these mawkish skirts, a fist of salts, a copper stave
that took what was left of me. A tatty bodice
to match this mock and playful diadem
that the Prince had given me, which one day
would be real.
See those baubles there?
And here a pot of red smudge,
to make my lips a man’s.
I’ll have it not.
Away with me to some cold river where
I’ll embrace the better part of this dispensation.
Not to be
is to be.
Rayfield A. Waller. Detroit, Michigan, United States. Waller is a poet, cultural critic, labor activist, and political journalist who is a professor of literature, history, and the social sciences at Wayne State University and Wayne County Community College in the postindustrial city of Detroit, Michigan.