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For my students

read by the author

How many one-legged soldiers have marched for two-legged kings ?
Look at them hopping across the screen, black suits
Pressed for Remembrance Day, medals from Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele
Banging against their chests, and the film jumping to the rhythm
Of their crutches. There are enough to fill five cities;
And even on single legs they keep faithful step, eyes fixed as bayonets
Dead ahead.

How soon they forget that the king has dressed himself in a score
Of counterfeit uniforms all bloodied now, and stiff, under a song of flies.
Meanwhile the king, in a long frock and feathered hat, surveys the campaign
From a distant manor, advisors swirling around him
With maps as he smoothes the expensive silk
Along his thighs.

At this, and any time, not to be paranoid
Is highest foolishness. This executive, whose eyes
You cannot see behind his brilliant lenses, will never hack your hands off;
He will take what dreams in you on the twentieth floor at coffee-break —
The part that shapes a tune for your flute, or bends a clay bowl
To the exact form of your delight — and he will tweezer it out of you
Very slowly.

See them milling there in the quadrangle, these youngsters
Ready to be crippled for someone else’s dream of excellence
Which carries them to a high apartment above the wrinkled river,
An apartment blank as Hotspur’s eye as he stares up at the cold clouds
Riding over.
                And everywhere the young pretender struts,
He builds his kingdom on the skull-bones of his father; and once
At twilight, alone in the royal ante-room, he slips the crown
Over his curls, listens to his father’s sick breathing
And smiles into the mirror.

His name is Hal, and he is everywhere.

Watch him, I tell you.
Go well downriver, build a small shack on the tidal flats
Camouflaged like an egret’s nest so the black
Patrol boats can’t pick you out with their long
Eye-beams at midnight.

Hunker down, be suspicious of any communiqué which offers
Terms for your surrender.