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On Egg’s version of the death of Buckingham

The Death of Buckingham, by Augustus Leopold Egg


Before the farmer walked the horse in the dark to the small barn, then he and his wife went to bed.

Before she stuffed the mattress with fresh straw and sewed it tight again, every stitch a small rage, after scrubbing it hard and baking it clean in the sun.

As the body of the duke of Buckingham lay there, on their bed and putrid, for another night before a man in a carriage came to collect him.

After the farmer’s wife entered the room gone quiet and was disappointed to find the duke wasn’t dead. Not quite. Not yet.

After they hid the duke’s horse in a neighbor’s barn, hoping the duke’s people wouldn’t ask about it.

After the farmer’s wife swabbed the duke’s forehead with the corner of her apron, grudgingly admiring the velvet of his trousers in this light, wondering what they’d cost him.

After the light changed, and changed again.

After his breathing got wet and his eyes stayed closed.

After she emptied the chamberpot.

After the butterfly found its way into the room.

After she emptied the chamberpot, then fed him broth and bread again, then swept more straw from the floor and closed the door.

After she left his boots on.

After she pulled his boots off again.

After the fever dream called him to dress himself and wander through visions of Roundheads and the tower and fine banquets, widening the hole in the mattress, straw spilling to these floorboards.

After the farmer’s wife was silent, dazzled, as she inspected the fineness of the silk and ribbons, the barely visible stitches of his jacket, just laid on the chair for now, along with his wig.

After she emptied the chamberpot in the privy, the duke having filled it to the brim during the night. “Fortune filled him too full,” observed the farmer to his wife, and she laughed and forgave him a little.

After the farmer and his wife slept back to back on a pallet she made by the cooking hearth.

After the farmer failed to consult his wife before offering this stranger, the duke of Buckingham, their bed.

After the wife answered a knock at the door and found a sick man in fine clothes dripping with rain, an enormous horse tethered to their apple tree.

After the tiny sound of a stitch breaking in the seam of the mattress, as the farmer rose to dark skies and wet fields.

After the clouds gathered.



Posted 12/09/14
This poem appeared in The Loft Anthology: New England Poetry and Art (2014).
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