Inheriting kingdoms too young, ruling unready
most of Europe, American and Asian colonies,
enduring decades of armor, steeds, banners,
helmets, thrones, victories,
and obsequiousness all around,
Charles withdrew to Yuste’s cloister
deep among almond and olive groves,
to a tiny cell with an altar view,
and an orthopedic chair for his exhaustion
and his gout.
Someday, when I have leisure, he said, I’m
going to spend time with my clocks.
And so he did – tall clocks, small clocks,
ship-shaped clocks, clocks that measured
the timing of the moon and sun,
traced the wanderings of the planets.
His aim was to tinker with toys and tools
and best, to make two clocks strike the same hour
at the same time. They never did.
His own time running out,
unable to pace the cloister,
even to stand up, he built a catafalque,
had himself placed in his casket
to witness his own funeral.
Well after, death arrived.
Beyond all things is the sea.
So his army could pace on obedient waves,
Xerxes strung across the Hellespont
mile-long rope bridges.
But when the sea ripped the ropes to tatters,
the king beheaded the builders,
ordered scourgers to whip, insult
the muddy salty river!
The sea calmed as he lined up
six hundred oared ships and triremes
side by side, a trail of cut timber,
layered it with soil for his floating parade,
then turned his rage on Athens, burned it to ash.
Enthroned on a hilltop to witness
his Salamis triumph, he watched his seamen,
who could not swim, swallowed
by water’s rage, all, again, untethered.
At the Moesgard Museum
Only chapel silence in the bog-dimness,
foot-shuffles, a polite cough.
We crowd on benches ringing
the Grauballe Man’s glass enclosure.
Gently spotlit, he lies stretched out,
off balance, propped on an elbow,
while his smooth hands
and the envelope of his leathery skin
deliver hints of the man he was . . .
Here encased, a victim with plenty of time
to make his case with every witness,
his remains testify to an ancient grievance.
Though he’s two thousand years buried,
it’s all too easy to trace the cruel slice
across his throat, the purposeful gash
from ear-to-ear, suicide impossible.
I feel a contemporary sympathy
as brow ridged, mouth agape, he seems
to mourn his youth cut short, to beg a hearing.
I imagine he’d toss back his thick shock
of red hair, breathe deep. He’d open wide
his encrusted eyes, look about the room,
then swing an elegant finger, like the point
of a compass needle, until it stopped
at his knife-wielding murderer.
He’d force his frozen lips into a smile maybe,
justice so long denied.
Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and free-lance essays, and a collection of personal essays, Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing (Ragged Mountain/McGraw Hill). Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. Her recent collection, Bound Each to Each, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.