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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.
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Author:Reiter, Thomas
Publication:Journal of Caribbean Literatures
Article Type:Poem
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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