Dream of Cockayne

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Last night I dreamt about a theater,
And a king and queen adorned in splendor
In ermine robes, trimmed with snow leopard,
Who ruled a kingdom in grim estate.

The ripe wheat shriveled from drought,
Families sold their children as slaves,
Dog packs prowled the littered streets,
Not even bandits conducted trade.

Lakes alive with fish shrank
To mud, white and bitter like asbestos;
Calcified, and the populace with it;
Bones poked the skin where muscles once flexed.

The king and queen required amusement,
Commissioned a theater, sat in it.
With their retinue of nobles, in thievish splendor,
Watched a constant scene behind the curtain:

A paradise where fools lay down drunk
Beneath cockayne trees, and fruit dropped off
From weight of ripeness right in their mouths.
Grass grew lush and cooling in the meadows.

The sky never wanted for lapis lazuli,
The hills never wanted for docile sheep
Or satyrs to stir the nymphs from sleep
And frolic to pan-pipes in virgin groves.

But whenever the audience tired,
Filed out to their world of plague,
The vista between the curtains changed;
Miasma swirled, and from the gray emerged

A parade of faces, porcelain masks,
Bloat-cheeked, mouths tragic,
One by one, turn by turn,
They peered out at the aisles and submerged.

This presence the court never felt nor guessed.
Each time they returned for more entertainment
Those child-faced ghosts disappeared,
Obliged to return the utopian scene.

Time passed, it seemed years.
People sweltered, died in mass graves.
The elegant court watched their pretty plays;
One night the two clocks matched gears.

One night the queen shook her husband awake:
“Last night, my love, I dreamt
Of a passage to the ever-green land.
An angel told me where to stand.

My love, come with me, wake up, wake up:
Let’s leave our chamber of horrors behind.
The entrance lies past the burgundy curtains
In the theater where you sit with your wife.”

Her husband rolled over, pushed her aside.
That morning, to her ladies-in-waiting,
The return to Cockayne she prophesied;
They blushed and rustled their shuffling trains.

All day she raved. They said:
“The famine works its spell on her brain.
Let’s throw her on straw, locked in a cage.”
She escaped, and stood before the stage.

She trembled, though the room was quite warm.
Tiny bells tingled in her ivory ears.
Drowsy, she stumbled, touched herself,
The burgundy curtains swayed…

She never came to court again,
Was never seen at the masques or plays.
None ever noticed, none ever saw
Her sad face drifting between curtain-calls.

One day, sometime after,
Famine came,
Donned a masque,
Crept in,
And slayed.

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