Requiem for a Princess

John Hartley Williams


A penguin, a donkey, a piano.
Their tinkle-plonky grief.

A station trolley
rumbling over pavement slabs
carries the deceased.

Black hearse, black iceberg
in a warm dissolving ocean,
it sails toward the gulf
that it will occupy.

The flag is folded small,
the folding of a child. Smoothed
from the national laundry
is a crease.

The penguin. Its raised beak.
Its self-important air. An advice bird.

Rising trumpets lift up
through shafts of attic sunlight.
Sound-motes. The air is soothed.
Chords on dusty keys.

There she goes!
Straight as a die!



A press of the old
against the young, craning
their necks to watch
the sombre rigadoon.

More friends she had
than secret yellows on a wasp,
the popular tune.

The shouts of a sergeant-major
wheel the regiment.
What are the thoughts of a serving man?
Tender? Insolent?

Their black trousers
are striped with gold.


Here is the man in the stovepipe hat
who is writing this poem.

a pouch of verses round his neck,
he has joined the procession
astride a donkey.


into the bone
of her creaturely self

he is melting,
against his will …


Ever see, the penguin remarks, so many poems, candles … ?
The donkey twitches its ear.
Don’t happen to play the piano, by any chance? the penguin asks.
The donkey twitches its ear.

A little hoof clatter
on the ivories?
A jig? A reel? A little bonzo
up-and-at-’em stomp?

Donkey fixes penguin
with long, donkey regard.

We need a melody
sweet as it is clumsy.
We need a song
that does it with its thumb …

Donkey moves to piano stool,
places feet upon the keys.

Yeah! cries the penguin.
Hoof it, Jack!


Becoming audible somewhere
is ragtime, hot & strong …

But do not assume
because you can hear
what you can hear
that it is other than

axes to the splinters
of a sounding board.

At rigid attention,
the penguin
stands absolutely straight
for a piano-smashing song …

Synch your lips
to words without reprise.


On a 94 bus, a donkey.
Wossat? asks a passenger.
Never seen no donkey before? the conductor asks.
Not on a bus, says the passenger.
Well you have now, says the conductor.
He checks the traveller’s season,
who alights, subsequently, at the junction
of Goldhawk Road & King Street.
That a piano I hear? asks the passenger.
Not on my bus, the conductor yells.

Everyone on board
wishes they would stop.


Alice wilds the pack.
The donkey does not move.

Court cards blown
across a wiry back

snow it out of grey.
Where the donkey stands,

argent on a field, fesse,
heraldry becomes the land,

a colourful finesse
of King, Queen, Jack

or floral coat of arms
ushering the fade to black.

Wolves look up from their bones.
Flowers ruffle to a night-breeze.

A ray of moonlight
striking the face of an owl

catches in its wasp-eyed gaze
reflection of the slow disband

of mourners clutching discards,
… hers … his … these …