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Rice, Mayor of Waterford

by Knute Skinner

In the city of Waterford
a fifteenth-century mayor,
prosperous at the fairs
and many times re-elected,
began to fear for the people.

After I am destroyed
no one will think, thought Rice,
that I, so often mayor,
was an ordinary body.
And my fellow-citizens,
even these, who bestow the office
year after year--
so complete is their trust in me--
must think me superhuman.

So greatly Rice feared
for the souls of his neighbours
when they asked his advice
on a cart wheel or a heifer,
or sought out his opinion
on guarding the Waterford coast
(and himself only their mayor)
that he wrote a strange will.

A fortnight from his decease,
according to instructions,
the people of Waterford
broke open his grave,
prominent in the cathedral.
Still standing there today
a finely carved tomb
commemorates Rice--
an old body, naked,
already decaying,
hungry vermin crawling
in and out of the ribs--
as he was last witnessed
by the clergy and laymen
whom he had served as mayor.


Taken from Selected Poems, Aquila Press, 1985.

Knute Skinner: Selected Poems

North Clare Writers Workshop Selection