On the Money

John Hartley Williams

(Art’s story)

When I was young, I coveted the money and the woman,
kept coaxing busy blood drops
from my reluctant thumb, grumbled out
the spell-cracked poems of a sorcerer’s apprentice.

No rich. No fetch the ladies, either.
Then I saw an ad: ‘Join La Table Ronde,’ it said,
‘accrue the benefits of debt.’ I wrote for details. A pile
of bumf arrived, a plastic card.

‘The upgrade, too,’ I said. ‘How much to be
a verray parfit gentil knyght, and what exactly is that, anyway?’
‘You get to save,’ they said, ‘the whores in Avalon. We shall
assess you monthly for your acts of credit. Note, however,

that we like our fallen women fallen. You take the drift?’
The rumour of the ripple of a chuckle went around the Table Round.
‘If reputation’s what you want, we do provide a lake of it to swim in,
though any Lady you encounter there might very well be wet.’

More mirth. Sir Tristram-Sitting-Next-To-Me remarked:
‘Decline the Lady’s hand. The lake’s polluted. It’s a trap.
Do not accept the Windmill Chain, the Stretched-Horse Franchise.
Avoid the Hotel Camelot like syphilis.’ Did I listen? No.

The Lady went to Hollywood to make explicit movies
for the hopeful. The vanes fell off the mills. The horses
wouldn’t stretch. Someone torched the Hotel Camelot.
Men with clipboards came to query my accounts.

‘I do not hear the rattle of your debt repayment, son,’
the judge observed. ‘Twenty years of cabbage soup and chains
will hardly pay for your effrontery.’ He smiled:
‘But keep the memory bright of your lacustrine love.’

I moped for the duration. Released, I found a place to slump.
And then across my threshold rolled – imagine my surprise –
in an electric wheelchair, the Lady from the Lake, no less.
Her looks were gone and she was squeaky in a bonnet.

She handed me Excalibur (a replica). I stuck it on the wall.
The bills peck daily through the door – they give no quarter –
but I riposte with inky flourishes: a demon of the notepad.
We camp here on an edge beside a hole inside a pocket.