Four Long Years At Court
I really miss the forest. And how
I used to hide there with the Queen.
I miss how we used to dance
and how we’d run from Court.
I miss the buttons (Oh, her buttons)
how they’d shine in the late light
when she wasn’t looking at me
arriving in the thicket–
where she’d somehow gotten first.
I wish she’d step down for the first time
again to greet me. In the great hall
where all the beasts’ heads hovered.
All the torches lit her from within.
I was looking at the white bat cup the buck’s rack,
swinging in the firelight like a lantern.
I saw its bones. Saw the fingers
hook onto to the antler. There she was.
Beside me. Watching me not see her.
You look to your right and time becomes
a torch blown huge. It was like that.
The bat looked like an otter’s stomach
blown into a lamp. I told her so.
The way you will. If I had turned away.
Toward the ladies dancing. Toward
the door and walked out to the courtyard.
Toward the axes lined in rows and clean.
I miss how we’d walk into the clearings
and the caves. The deer walked up from the ravines
and stared. I wasn’t scared of them or me
even with the things I’d done. Not when
she was there. I was so enamored
of the bat. Swinging. I could see its body
through the thin shroud of its wings.
I thought, “I could kill it with one hand.”
There she was. Watching me think it.
Watching me shake the thought of other
things into the darkness of the hall.
She touched my shoulder. Did I sing?
Sometimes to myself. Sitting by the river
or in the night to keep me safe. Sometimes
my name softly to myself to remind me.
Once beside my mother who’d swelled
to the size of a sheep. The deer
is in the thicket. The fox is in the glade.
Like that till she stopped breathing
and after as I watched the women
wash her. Not scared anymore,
neither one of us. I told her so.
How I sang. Of the fox and of the deer.
She held me in the clearing.
We could see the Towers
from there. It feels so long ago
and also like it’s yesterday. Stepped down
from her throne and then together
in the forest. That fast and also
through the hours beside the King.
Turn toward me. I’d think it as she sat.
Turn. All the beasts’ heads waiting.
The boar’s mouths open. The lynx
with its pink tongue. The deer,
the deer, the deer one after another
on the walls. The hinds and harts.
The ten point stag I took down
as a mercy after the King missed
its chest seven times. I killed him
as he tried to crawl away. I sang
Stop. Sang, The deer is in the thicket
as his eyes rolled. The fox is in
the glade. I took his antler in my left
hand and pulled back, hey lolly lolly,
pulled back until he groaned. I miss
the moment before it started.
Stepped down and stood beside me.
I could have walked into the courtyard
and kept going. I could have bargained
with the groom for the finest horse,
Passed the axes glistening
untouched all along the hallway.
Turn around. Who? Myself
or the Queen? The stag?
My arm held straight up
and brought down. To the left,
to the right. Your friends are there
for one moment. And then they’re gone.
The lass gets loose and double.
She leads me to the hills. I want it back.
Her there. Beside me.
Was I dreaming?
It’s a thing I ask myself. Did I dream
the stag’s head, the bat’s translucent
wings? Did I dream the Towers?
Sometimes I’d like to think so:
Loose and double in the glade
above me, beneath the break
in the trees where the sun
beat down upon us. A dream,
her body just a figment, and the deer
nothing but a song I sang beside
my mother as she died. It can
take forever. You can make a life
up in the time it takes to watch
your mother die. I was in the glade,
no I was in the bedroom, no
I was nowhere in the story.
Was nowhere to be found. I want
her back. I want the castle
and the bat. I even want the stag
who couldn’t make up his mind
if he should die or not. If he should
let me pull his neck back. Or not.
Get loose and double, I’d sing
alone in my room or on the train
or as I walked to work. The world
around, a tapestry. I’d cock my head,
I’d see the stag. I’d cock my head,
I’d see the men in business suits.
I miss the Queen. I want her here.
Beside me. The null point’s like a glade
where she’d lay me down beside
the stream. The beetles’ armies
resting on the rocks. The Towers
in the distance. Your friends are with you
then they’re gone. Your mother’s with you
then she’s gone. My armor shone
all morning, by nightfall it was blood and ash.
Hey lolly lolly. The fox is in the glade.
The debt collectors and the cans of soup.
One minute you’re a castle. The next
you’re just a cloud. Turn around.
Turn around in the late light.
If I cock my head I see the armies.
I could have walked from Court
and just kept going. Did I sing?
Ask the fox or the stag with his neck
pulled back. I want it back.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, Apocalyptic Swing, and the forthcoming Rocket Fantastic. She is Senior Poetry Editor at Los Angeles Review of Books and teaches at UNC Chapel Hill and in the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. From 2016-2018 she will be on a Jubilee where she will, along her new organization The Lake Give Collaborative, pair her poetic practice with charitable giving in hopes of allowing poetry and poetic practice to create a new economy of justice and safety for all.