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This London by Patrick Hicks

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After the First Performance of Hamlet

Hicks, Patrick


     Who’s there?
     Nay, answer me.


And so, the words are born into a globe of ears
even though the skull has yet to be lifted from the grave,
the “to be” is still not to be, and the ending is anyone’s guess.

These few, the lucky ones who felt like catching a show today,
cannot imagine they have stumbled into a nursery
where characters are given voice for the very first time.

These witnesses hold their bladders and pence and oranges
while, up the street, executioners and whores are busy with bodies,
the queen sits down to lunch, and the Thames unspools into the sea.

London is unaware that the defining words of their age are,
at this very moment, ribboning from an actor’s mouth—
what matters to history often astonishes those living through it.

On the stage, as Hamlet coils anger around a blade,
no one realises that he is tossing words into the future.
In fact, long after this day has curtained to a close,

the box office counted on a lost wooden table,
and the actors’ throats cooled with pints of beer,
the stage will be emptied, the doors padlocked shut,

and everyone, including Shakespeare,
will go to bed believing that just another day
has changed costume into night.

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