by Marly Youmans
He’d expected something clever and strange—
Business suit made of the thread from golden
Orb spiders, clownish robot-dress with gears,
Caddis-fly concoctions of spit and shells,
Maybe a seductress with breasts so tart
And green they almost rode her collarbones.
But there he was, lantern-jawed, in rusty
Cloak and gown and leaning on a sickle.
“Originality is over-prized,”
Death said, flossing his teeth with a filament
Of hair; “So what’s this monster deal? You swap
Your matchless one-and-only life to haul
This waif back up? I don’t remember her.”
He gaped a yawn: “There are so many now.”
At once the Fool pressed Precious Wentletrap
Against the place that ached and might have been
His heart, and then he settled her on sand.
“She doesn’t look quite real.” Death cocked his head.
“Like maybe it’s just moonbeams and rice paste.
You sure this is a fair exchange of goods?”
“She is more real than I am,” the Fool said,
“And gleamy, worth a thousand clones of me.”
He glanced back to where Precious Wentletrap
Lay folded, glimmering with a drowned light,
Just as Death’s claw hurled darkness at the air.
The blinded Fool clung to a spar of bone
Till a shimmer on the floor lent seeing:
It was as people say—a tunnel mouth,
A bursting radiance that dazzled eyes.
Then shaking, and the Red King called his name.
He woke, the faintest moonshine on his chair,
As grief-rocked as a child whose doll is lost.
“Why did you make me stop? I meant to go
With Death and ransom Precious Wentletrap!”
He looked about him, touched the moonlit cloth
With fingertips: “I was having a dream.”
“It’s all the same,” the Red King said, “this world
Or distant worlds, whether you are awake
Or sleep, all being made of the same words.”