Raised a level far beyond my abilities
I have to meet an African king
Of a decently powerful country tomorrow.
Just time to eat, sleep, and dress—
No time to shop for him.
I’ll be alone on the small swift plane
Except for my guard, a bed, and my gift
For the king. I am not to shop for it,
It has to be an existing precious possession.
I’ve decided to bring two gifts, one
My active Rolodex, filled, and one
One of my precious beliefs, to be delivered
Orally. The guard says this will work,
It will be beyond pleasing. We’re
About to land and the guard says the king
Will be on the tarmac. I put on
My black sports jacket over my best red shirt
And black pants. The king’s English
Is as good as mine. He receives the Rolodex gently
And instructs an aide to put it on the royal night table,
Bedside. Then he asks for weapons,
Specifically the M4 assault rifle, the MK19 grenade launcher,
And the Tow anti-tank missle,
And I say wait a minute, let me write this down,
And wait a minute, how about my
Personal second gift to you? He smiles and holds
His arms open for an embrace.
It is like stepping between two muscular panthers the size
Of big arms but his embrace is gentle.
I step back and say I’m going to give him
One of my precious beliefs, lend me an ear,
Which I step to his side for.
A plane is taxi-ing past to take off and
We can barely hear each other
So the king makes an arm motion to his aide like
A sign language arm and the aide runs to the
Plane and makes a motion that’s like sign
Language for the deaf to the pilot and
All the planes in the airport shut off
Their engines. We have to wait for the massive whining
To stop and then the king motions me to his ear.
I whisper the last 6 lines of Prufrock
And the first 3 lines of Hamlet.
No one knows both! but
Is it any wonder that he’s a king! I mean he’s
Pissed now, but doesn’t show it. He asks for more weapons,
Specifically the M270 rocket launcher and the Atlas V launch vehicle,
And “Those I previously asked you for, please.”
Also, he says, before you tell them
What I want, tell them I am giving them a gift,
A regift of your precious belief, delivered
In each of their ears. How many of them
Will there be? he asks. Well, there were
Four in the room when I got my assignment,
I said. OK, he said, you do that
In their ears first, and announce it as my gift to them,
And then ask for the five weapons,
Exactly 70 of each. I thought to myself, OK, I can try that,
And away I went, on the small swift plane.
Arthur Vogelsang’s books are A Planet (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1983); Twentieth Century Women (University of Georgia Press, 1988), which was selected by John Ashbery for the Contemporary Poetry Series; Cities and Towns (University of Massachusetts Press, 1996), which received the Juniper Prize; Left Wing of a Bird (Sarabande, 2003); Expedition: New & Selected Poems (Ashland Poetry Press, 2011), and Orbit (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016). He is co-editor of the Norton Anthology The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review. The recipient of three NEA fellowships in poetry, he lives in Los Angeles.