By Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Queen, widow, mother,
new-made wife, caught up
in a surprising, late love,
a middle-aged blush
on your still fair cheeks.

The flies in the ointment:
Your disturbed son and the o’er hasty
everything of your first husband’s death
and your second marriage.

You don’t even know about the orchard murder
or the nightly ghost.

How you wish Hamlet
would settle down,
so you could be the maid
rushing head first
into a love maybe called passion,
or lust, or last call.
But you don’t care what we name it;
you want long nights and song
and feasting.
You want laughter.
You want to believe
that something this good
can last.

But that’s where the story always ends,
the truth in the cup you just sipped from,
your eyes on the man
for whom you gave up everything.

How you can imagine in that last, strangled moment,
the unsipping of the poisoned wine,
the backing away from the clanging weapons,
the slipping outside the castle,
the bright afternoon all around you.

* * *

Jessica Barksdale is the author of thirteen traditionally published novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and When You Believe. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Compose, Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Storyacious, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.

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