The King of Redonda.
The King of Redonda You know the kind of day the counterman Fate doesn't put his thumb in your soup? One of those found me in residence in the Windwards. Columbus named this tiny island Santa Maria la Redonda, and rotund she is, a volcanic scone wearing a pomaded wig of guano and with cliffs that look like Christo wrapped them. Nothing but a blazing white seamark now, population me. Harvesting stopped when veins of phosphate more pure than guano were found under that topping. So here I am, sole employee of Redonda Fertilizer, Inc., caretaker in case the mines reopen. I fire up a donkey engine that moves the gears in the tramway and crusher so they won't seize up with guano. To keep seabirds off my roof I put up poles flying plastic pennants like a dealership. The counterman Fate? This morning the King of Redonda stepped ashore from a chartered ketch. I surprised myself by hiding, watched him wander about in noon whiteout but had to announce myself when he began building a cook fire out of oleander stems. Didn't Carib Indians kill missionaries by wafting oleander smoke into rectories? He opened a bottle of VSOP and we talked. The first of Redonda's crowned heads to visit, he was Phillipe V, and won the throne playing darts in a London pub with the great-great-grandson of the seaman on a guano ship who claimed this dependency of Antigua as his mock-heroic kingdom, bestowing knighthoods and High Church sinecures by the pint. What does it mean, I asked, to have one subject only, and he a low-residency MFA recruited in an Antiguan tiki bar --this place a knuckle on the horizon-- because the tenure market's as tight as every sphincter on Redonda is loose? You deal with it by abdicating, he laughed, scrawling on a Post-it that I was henceforth King Phillipe VI. He planted the royal colors in a guano bank, olive and blue stripes torn from his late queen's bloomers, then sailed off, a chartered accountant on holiday--but not before calling out that he couldn't promise he'd remember and not crown someone else.
Thomas Reiter is a poet whose most recent book of poetry, Powers and Boundaries, was published in 2004 by Louisiana State University Press. In 2009, LSU will bring out his next collection, Catchment. He is a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Daily News Poetry Prize from The Caribbean Writer, as well as poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has traveled widely in the Caribbean and written extensively about the culture, history, and folklore of the islands.