Tale of the Mayor’s Son

By Glyn Maxwell b. 1962 Glyn Maxwell
The Mayor’s son had options. One was death,
   and one a black and stylish trilby hat
he wore instead, when thinking this: I Love.

The town was not elaborate. The sky
   was white collisions of no special interest
but look at the Mayor’s son, at the bazaar!

‘I’ve seen her once before . . .’ Her name was this:
   Elizabeth. The Mayor’s son was eighteen,
his mind older than that but his mouth not.

And had no options. ‘Hey, Elizabeth!’
   I could say what was sold in the bazaar,
I could be clearer on the time of day,

I could define Elizabeth. I will:
   Every girl you ever wanted, but
can’t have ’cause I want. She was twenty-one.

‘Hi,—’ the name of the Mayor’s son? Not the point.
   ‘Let’s get something together!’ someone said.
‘The Mayor’s son out with Lisa!’ someone gossiped.

The afternoon, about to be misspent,
   stirred coffee with its three remaining fingers:
‘They are sugar-crazy, they are milk-lovers,

and they won’t last.’ Some things about the town:
   blue-printed in the days of brown and white
and laid down one fine evening, late July.

Musicians lived there; painters; people who
   did murders but deliberated first;
town-councillors for other towns; widows

of chip-eating, soap-using carcasses
   who still watch television on occasions;
ex-famous people too, well one or two,

ex-people, come to think of it; some mates
   of mine, no friends of yours, not you, not me;
a prostitute or two policemen or

a cabbage-patch doll buying a new home;
   a band of Stuart Pretenders; a fire-hose
on motorbikes, frequenting clubs and stuff;

a catholic, a protestant, a bloke;
   insurance clerks, accountants, a red horse
belonging to my cousin, and of course

the man himself. No, strike him, he just left.
   Divide the town into eleven parts,
throw then of them away, and look at this:

They skated on the ice at the ice-rink,
   Elizabeth and a black-trilbied boy
who kept his hat on. I’d have hated that

had I seen it. I hate people who
   make such alert decisions to impress.
I’d have him on his arse. Oh good, he is.

Elizabeth, white-skirted,—no more clues—
   swooped to pick the Mayor’s son off the ice,
and pterodactyl-like he shook himself.

Hat elsewhere, hat kicked on by a small bully
   and ruined by the bully’s friend. Once,
that would have shelled and reddened my idea,

to see such fun. But nowadays I just
   cram it in with all the other eggs
for omelette. Skate, skate, you’re crap at it,

whatever your name is, you Mayor’s son.
   The Mayor’s son and Elizabeth, oh my!
The middles of my afternoons in England.

Three simultaneos occurrences:
   a hump, a testimonial, a bomb.
back to the ice-rink, just in time, we—

—There they are! Their two bicycles propped
   for vandals who’ll show up in half an hour,
and off they go towards the library.

Conveniences everywhere, a town
   complete with detail, and the gardens so—
green and, and—and there! This is a poem

of love, whose hero had to urinate
   and did so, while Elizabeth began
to make a Christmas list, and left him out.

The air began to gather, pointilliste,
   and the first lamp went to a sorry pink
that wouldn’t last, was a phenomenon.

They crossed roads, Beauty Gloved and the Mayor’s Son,
   they made split-second choices that saved lives.
The library was all a welcome cube.

The library was full of walruses.
   Or people who resembled walruses.
Or—no. Let’s say: People who would bear

comparisons with walruses, and might
   agree that was an up-to-date perception,
post-Tennyson; post-anything; French.

Outside the library, the skinhead world
   dropped litter, picked up girls, and spat, and wasn’t
literate, and walruses, elsewhere,

moaned in the sea and didn’t give a monkey’s.
   So much for images. The library
was full of books. The books were like more books.

Some books were overdue. A man called Smith
   had borrowed Dante’s Purgatorio
but not the other two. I had them both.

A man called Dorman had a book on trees,
   which nobody had mentioned recently
though it was ages overdue. A girl

who’d stripped the library of Sailing books
   had drowned recently, and was so slow
to answer warnings that they’d phoned her up

to ask politely for their library books.
   A dictionary had gone missing too
but the Mayor’s son had other things in mind!

How do we know? We don’t, but he had options,
   and watched Elizabeth selecting books
on Archaeology, and calling them

‘Unusually specific.’ The Mayor’s boy
   nodded his head of ordinary hair
and felt Love making soup with the utensils

he generally called his heart and soul.
   ‘Well this is it,’ she said, ‘but it’s too short.’
The sky was mauve, no other colour, mauve—

the walruses, the ice-sakters, the books!
   The Mayor himself was coming home to dinner,
and I was splitting up with Alison.

I think it was that day, about half-six.
   The bully, meanwhile, read about a bike
and mentioned it to his belaboured dad

as a potential Christmas present. I—
   sometimes I hope he gets it, sometimes I
devoutly hope it kills him. Anyway,

‘The Library is closing now.’ The Mayor
   expected his son home. Elizabeth
expected that as well, didn’t expect

what happened next as they waited for the cars
   to lose their nerve and stop. He put his hand
behind the head of this Elizabeth

and bruised her with a kiss, a mad one! He
   receded and she reapparead, a girl
with somebody to marry, and not him,

her mouth politicised indignity,
   her eyes becoming tyrants, après-coup:
‘How dare you?’ What a question. How dare you?

Because we don’t know what—because we do—
   Irrelevant! Elizabeth was off.
The traffic-lights were either green or red—

I don’t see amber. Look at the Mayor’s son,
   no girl, no hat, under the sodium-
lamps of his home town. (Elizabeth

was born here too. Actually, so was I,
   but Alison moved here in ’83.)
Change, traffic-lights! Go, hatchbacks of the time,

the buses, and the other cars! Next year
   the Major—who now eats fillets with his wife
and son, and fills a second glass with Soave

and tells a joke, and the son laughs—the Mayor
   will be deposed next year: his son will choose
a university, it will say no

to him but take Elizabeth, for Maths
   not Archaeology, and Alison
will suddenly, one day, in a Maths class,

befriend Elizabeth, and find that their
   acquaintances are mutual, like me
and the Mayor’s son, and in a stand-up bar

all evening they’ll be there. Meanwhile, the books
   will pile up in my world, and someone’s hat
will find its way to me and I will wear it.

Glyn Maxwell, “Tale of the Mayor’s Son” from The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1990-1995. Copyright © 2000 by Glyn Maxwell. Reprinted by permission of Glyn Maxwell.

Source: The Boys at Twilight: Poems 1990-1995 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)

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Poet Glyn Maxwell b. 1962


Subjects Living, Life Choices, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, Class, Popular Culture, Love, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

 Glyn  Maxwell


Born in England to Welsh parents, Glyn Maxwell was educated at Oxford University and Boston University, where he studied both poetry and theater with Derek Walcott. This simultaneous training in two disciplines has enabled him to create innovative work across genres. Maxwell has written numerous verse plays as well as long narrative poems. The Sugar Mile (2005), a verse narrative set in a Manhattan bar a few days before . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Social Commentaries, Class, Popular Culture, Love, Realistic & Complicated


Poetic Terms Free Verse, Tercet

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