The King Is Dead—Long Live the King: A Poem by David Rogers

When he fights the dragon
Beowulf assumes he can still win
even after the blood begins to boil from his veins
and steam rises from the dragonfire
You don’t get into fights like this
by thinking too much
or he’d have brought better weapons
and more warriors to help
even a magician to confuse the dragon
let the beast consume its own ouroboric tail
and where are the fool the jester
the enchanted artisans dusted with fairy mist
and engaged to make simple remarks filled
with profound meaning

There are yet no universities no Latin scholars
no libraries just the poet
who memorizes as she watches and plucks
a string or two on the harp no parchment needed
the words and notes live in the air
not on dead animal skin
The poet exaggerates the lizard or two
and the poisonous serpent
that finally give the senile king the gift of mortality
These will do as well as a dragon
because this poet knows her craft
how to tell the people what they want to hear
even when they do not know they want it
The only magic is the spell
she casts on listening ears
but magic works best when amplified
by harp music, charred meat, firelight, and mead
The serpent rattles and is gone
the lizard scuttles away
the dragon settles into its place in history and legend
and curls up for a nap