~ Gertrude ~

I lay awake
as the night stretched on and on,
thinking for a while
of my first marriage bed;
I was a little afraid,
on that long-ago night,
of my warrior husband.
Afraid, and in love as well.
Such a strange combination.
His passion did, I think
blur the line between love and war,
so that I lay abed afterward
musing that I had done battle
for the first time in my life.
And yet that night,
my son was planted in me.
Tonight is different.
No issue will Claudius and I create here,
in this love of our middle age,
with all declared that Hamlet
stands most immediate to the throne.
For a little while tonight
in my new husband’s arms
I felt as if the thrill of youth
had been restored to me.
But that was brief, and faded
along with the transience
of love’s consuming cries.
Sadness crept back,
that Hamlet should be so loathe
to remain here with us in Elsinore.
Claudius cheered me
by proposing we send
for some of my son’s fellow students
from Wittenberg;
to supplement good Horatio,
and bring fresh kinship
for Hamlet’s pleasure.
As if that decided all,
Claudius now sleeps.
At first, watching him, I see peace
upon his features.
But then his eyes do dart
behind their closed lids, and he stirs,
one hand slightly fluttering
as if to ward off a blow.
He mutters, and I lean close to hear.
“Hamlet,” he says, “…leave me be.
Leave me be.”
Which Hamlet does he dream of?
Brother or nephew?
That the dream tries him
there can be no doubt, for his teeth grind
and the hand once again rises in protection;
a sore vision, if such signs tell true.
I move almost to wake and soothe him,
but something deep in my heart stays me:
a hesitancy, which I do not understand.
Brother, or son?
One dead, one greatly troubled in mind.
Both, upon a time,
the dearest men in my life.
I feel loss hover near to me in the chill night.
Where did youth go, with its charm
of innocent hope?
One husband dead;
the other wrestling with nightmare.
As with no other night in my memory,
I will welcome darkness’ end
and the return of bright dawn,
our souls to mend.