Guest poem submitted by Kamalika Chowdhury:
(Poem #1708) Elizabeth
Catch, my Uncle Jack said and oh I caught this huge apple red as Mrs Kelly's bum. It's red as Mrs Kelly's bum, I said and Daddy roared and swung me on his stomach with a heave. Then I hid the apple in my room till it shrunk like a face growing eyes and teeth ribs. Then Daddy took me to the zoo he knew the man there they put a snake around my neck and it crawled down the front of my dress I felt its flicking tongue dripping onto me like a shower. Daddy laughed and said Smart Snake and Mrs Kelly with us scowled. In the pond where they kept the goldfish Philip and I broke the ice with spades and tried to spear the fishes; we killed one and Philip ate it, then he kissed me with the raw saltless fish in his mouth. My sister Mary's got bad teeth and said I was lucky, hen she said I had big teeth, but Philip said I was pretty. He had big hands that smelled. I would speak of Tom, soft laughing, who danced in the mornings round the sundial teaching me the steps of France, turning with the rhythm of the sun on the warped branches, who'd hold my breast and watch it move like a snail leaving his quick urgent love in my palm. And I kept his love in my palm till it blistered. When they axed his shoulders and neck the blood moved like a branch into the crowd. And he staggered with his hanging shoulder cursing their thrilled cry, wheeling, waltzing in the French style to his knees holding his head with the ground, blood settling on his clothes like a blush; this way when they aimed the thud into his back. And I find cool entertainment now with white young Essex, and my nimble rhymes.
Deviating from the theme of poems remembered to a poem of historical premise, I would like to submit Michael Ondaatje's "Elizabeth" (from "There's a Trick With a Knife I'm Learning to Do: Poems, 1962-1978"). History is, after all, a sum of all memories. In characteristic Ondaatje style, this poem explores several scenes with still-life precision, each complete and powerful in its imagery, each seemingly isolated at the outset except for the narrator's voice threading through. Only as you read along, the impressions merge and the whole story emerges with subtlety and depth. But to me, on first encounter, a startling realisation lay in its hidden historical references. This is a poem set in a retrospective slice of the life of Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of the infamous King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, often known as the Virgin Queen. The theme of the poem itself is dark, rendered harsh when the poet uses a coldly detached tone, infinitely harsher in first person narrative. This poem stands by itself. Even so, perhaps the most compelling thing about it is that it brings history out of books and into the ruthless light of reality. Kamalika. [Notes] The obvious characters in the story are Philip II of Spain, who ended up married to Elizabeth's half-sister Mary I, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, and Robert Devereux, earl of Essex. Uncle Jack possibly refers to Lord John Grey, and Mrs. Kelly could be Katherine Parr, Henry's 6th and last wife, who was later married to Seymour and brought Elizabeth into their household. Ambitious Seymour died in a gruesome execution without being given a trial. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary I, and later went on to succeed her to the throne of England. Essex was a favourite of the queen at court in later years, before she had to have him put to death for treason . [Links] The whole story is told here: http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/eliz.html Wikipedia on Queen Elizabeth I: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England