Requiem for a Princess

John Hartley Williams

(i)

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!

Tantara!

(ii)

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,
ghosting
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.

(iii)

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

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

Downward

into the bone
of her creaturely self

he is melting,
against his will …

(iv)

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!

(v)

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.

(vi)

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.

(vii)

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 …