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The King Won’t Kill Me

today. He’s cleared the court, torn up

the last treaty, trounced the villages

bordering the empire’s southernmost

state, rounded up their dark denizens

and given the hundred skinniest to split

among his governors. I wore shackles

once on a boat across the largest ocean

in the universe, but I was the last among

my captive people to forget how to laugh

and the first to remember our tribal names.

In that time, I learned the whipman’s slang,

for when the noble children came to gawk,

I’d listen to them, mimic, until I could

speak back, ask questions, chat them up

for fairy tales, prayers, ridicule, and lies.

Dumb luck, one runt traded me a book

for my right thumb through the bars

of my cage. In no time, I learned to read

all the secrets of their God. Then,

Minor Governor caught me making

a small group of children dance

to my crafted blasphemies, damning us all.

He had me dragged before the King.

His Majesty asked me why I believed

I’d been brought before him, so I called to mind

a passage I memorized from their holy book

about a pale man’s rib and sang it in the melody

with which my mother used to bid farewell

to summer every year. The King sneered first,

then held his big belly and laughed. Take him

away. Take him—away. I thought, for sure,

it was my death, but it’s been 11 years

and the King no longer goes to church

on Sundays, he beckons me to court instead

to make him laugh and sometimes weep.

He calls me Nearer, my pumpkin, nearer

then caresses my cheek. Some afternoons

I’m cuddled so close to him I’m sure I could

slip from his fat knuckle one of his big bright

ruby rings. He kisses me from my right elbow

down to each of my four fingers’ tips. I tell him

how his darling left hand is so chubby sweet

and I vow, one day, to take the whole

goddamned thing in his sleep.

from Brooklyn AntediluvianFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2016
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Published in Patrick Rosal Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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