It took me but an instant to see she wasn’t
my Lady Ophelia: an uncharacteristic smirk
even in death, her color too outdoor-tawny,
her fingernails jagged and toil-muddy.

From the marks ringing her throat,
she hadn’t drowned, but was murdered,
probably by Hamlet, for whatever reason
I’d no idea and didn’t want to know,

merely had to cover it up, so the court
wouldn’t suffer yet another catastrophe
of his melancholy mania: my sworn duty
to protect my friend, especially from himself.

Had this imposter dispatched Ophelia
for gain? Or, I thought, more likely
they’d switched lives. I’d wager My Lady
had absconded with that troupe of players at dawn,

and this one, whoever she was, had lost
the bargain, poor drab, thinking she’d won
an easy court life as the Prince’s consort,
so long as she played her role every instant

of every day and night. But that’s impossible,
as she learned. Hamlet may be off-kilter
as a slowing top, or merely feigning lunacy,
but he always notices everything.

A fast rider could overtake that troupe,
bring Ophelia back to her rightful place,
but that would make her life and the Prince’s
even more complicated. Better to let her

escape this cursed court, and mad Hamlet.

Robert Cooperman’s latest collection is BEARING THE BODY OF HECTOR HOME (FutureCycle Press). Forthcoming from Kelsay Books is HELL AT COCK’S CROW.