THE FROGMORE POETRY PRIZE 2003

 
Jamie Walsh
THE REPRIEVE
  'Macbeth is safe on the throne until Sherwood Forest would walk up to
him.'
Line taken from a student's essay on Shakespeare

Seyton pointed it out from the battlements;
Birnam wood-clad troops took it as fey and lost spine -
men suddenly foolish in the wrong twigs bled morale.

Macduff didn't take it at all well -
he pitched the first hissyfit in Scottish history,
crying Foul until Angus said, Lay off, Macduff.

Lennox spoke darkly of intelligence failures.
A review of foretelling procedures was instituted,
but the witches took the Fifth - they had to,

for out of the woodwork came demands for
restitution of thumb, chaff from the RSPCA about horses,
pedants quibbling that Caesarean section was still 'woman born',

rumours of hot, broomstick sex with a girl
called Hecate who mysteriously couldn't be found,
and a boy called Finknottle who had a beef about the newts.

Young Siward cried through his fingers. Donalbain
sought solace with Mentieth, who told him his poems
were banausic yet labile. Malcolm took his ball home.

Macbeth watched from a windy slit high
in Dunsinane and at sunset took to padding the halls
in slippers, hunting out the darkest nooks of the night.

The clocks wound down, the final ticks finding
him in her chambers with the tools of her white beauty.
He dispatched a servant for stealing her foundation cream

and rubbed the blood into his hands and cheeks.
Rumours crept out and told how he spoke to mirrors and got
no answer but the beaten tin of his voice at the level of skirting.

Only the ghost of Banquo stayed. He said he had no place
else to go; I miss my son, he said. In the crow hours of dawn
they spoke of white skin, cheek down and the smell of hair

in pillows. Macbeth asked him if he'd seen her;
Banquo shook his head. She's one day onward, always, he said.
They sat for months, clinking two voices together like tankards,

until their regrets became as unbending as steel:
broad, honed, salt-sharp. And then one day the news came
that Robin Hood had been captured for lack of ground cover.

Macbeth stood, clothes now falling from his bones,
watched English leaves oiling up the stones: Banquo said
she was waiting and passed a dagger, the handle toward his hand.



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