He ordered a Shirley Temple at
the restaurant. “Think you’re old enough to drink that?”
his father asked him
when the drink arrived, a blue plastic sword hooked over its rim.
“Don’t say that. You’ll ruin his birthday night.”
Already they had begun to fight.
He swirled the cherry in his drink, feeling very alone.
“Who pulls this sword from stone
and anvil,” he thought,
trying not to listen as his parents fought,
“by sign and right of birth is king of all England.”
He lifted the garnish in his hand
and tugged the cherry from the plastic sword.
It did not end their discord;
the restaurant table was square.
The cherry plunked back into his drink, loosing the tiny air
bubbles on the bottom of the glass.
It reminded him of a summer’s day at camp when en masse
his bunk went down to the lake to jump
into the water from a rope tied to a tree. Standing on a stump
on the shore
he saw a glint of metal, like the flash of ore
in a miner’s pan.
He waded into the water for a closer look and, breaking the ban,
swam out towards the girls’
camp on the other side. Diving deep, as if he searched for pearls,
he found the source of the glinting light:
an open blade of a Swiss Army Knife held tight
in the hand of a blonde-haired
girl. Although he was scared,
he could not help
watching the way her hair curled about her like strands of kelp
reaching for the surface.
seemed so serene.
He could not tell if the keen
blade were meant to cut her free
from the rocks she
was tied to, or to slit her wrist.
He stabbed at the lemon twist
of his mother’s diet coke.
His father pulled out a pack of Lucky’s and began to smoke.
His mother glared and looked about to
object, but didn’t get the chance. His father asked him, “What do
you want for your birthday?” He laid the sword atop
his plate and said, “I only want the fighting to stop.”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I think that so many of us, particularly when feeling helpless, have daydreamed of what it might be like to do something so seemingly simple as to pull the sword from the stone and thereby acquire both authority and power. For this poem, originally written for a collection of short stories about the sword Excalibur, I tried to imagine an Excalibur that would be different, a story not everyone else would be writing about, so I chose the little plastic sword in a cherry of a Shirley Temple. From there, I tried to transpose various other elements of the King Arthur myth (the Lady of the Lake, etc.) to the situation of a young boy and why he felt so helpless so as to need that daydream right then…
IMAGE: “Excalibur in the Lake” by Aubrey Beardsley (1894).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lawrence Schimel (b. New York, 1971) writes in both English and Spanish and has published over 100 books as author or anthologist, including two poetry chapbooks in English, Fairy Tales for Writers and Deleted Names (both from A Midsummer Night’s Press), and one poetry collection in Spanish, Desayuno en la cama (Egales). He has twice won the Lambda Literary Award (for First Person Queer and PoMoSexual: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality), as well as the Independent Publisher Book Award, the Spectrum Award, and other honors. His stories and poems have been widely anthologized in The Random House Treasury of Light Verse, The Random House Book of Science Fiction Stories, The Mammoth Book of Fairy Tales, Chicken Soup for the Horse-Lover’s Soul 2, The Incredible Sestinas Anthology, Weird Tales from Shakespeare, and many others. He lives in Madrid, Spain where he works as a Spanish->English translator.