Absented from felicity a year
In the back room let by his maiden aunts,
He let his hair grow long and pierced one ear,
Staring at cards Reynaldo mailed from France.
The scenes which they depicted gave him pause.
Stranger than Pliny (he had flunked the course),
In violation of all natural laws
A lady copulated with a horse.
If such as that could be, how stale and flat
Would seem the stupid tale he’d sworn to write:
The spider nesting in the old king’s hat,
The late appearance of the northern lights,
Simple adultery and the rancid stew
Which he’d passed on but cost the crown its life,
His fat friend’s garter tangling with his shoe,
Pitching him forward on his letter-knife,
And worse, that senile windbag and his daughter,
The former shafted with a curtain rod,
The latter diving into six-inch water.
This was the stuff of tragedy? Dear God.
The memo came from Osric, now the Chief
Of Royal Information: Get to work!
Keep the thing scandalous, and keep it brief.
Action and jokes. Make everyone a jerk
Except, of course, King Fortinbras. Let him
(Deus ex machina) arrive in time
To get lard-ass’s blessing. You can trim
Most of the facts. Put in some crime
To make us look legitimate. And need
I mention that you’ve missed your deadline–twice?
Next week. At latest. Then, as we agreed,
You’d best get out of town. Take my advice.
And so he sat there hours, thinking hard.
Paris? Why not? But he was tired and broke
And known by face to every border guard.
The truth was bad enough. This was a joke.
His skills, such as they were, lay in debating
Questions of ethics, and his style of prose
Would never keep the groundlings salivating
With prurient puns. He’d seen Lord Osric’s shows.
But what was truth? Wasn’t it, all things said,
Whatever the authorities deemed right?
The rest was silence, for the dead were dead.
Feeling much better, he began to write.
The first draft took two days. He hired a ghost,
Dictating while he packed and paced the floor.
By Friday he had made it to the coast,
Sunday, stood knocking at Reynaldo’s door.