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She moved swiftly on her accession:
commands me give my drawing of her head
to the new coin millers on the City’s island
next to Notre Dame. An odd workshop:
unnaturally quiet, only the whoosh
of pendulum and click of balance
wheel filtering the silver rush. Few men.
Automated imprints of a Royal will.
She loves the promise of geometry,
perfect circles for divine right
and wants each coined head to weigh
the same and thus induce at last an impossible
equality among her peoples. The effigy
that just says ‘monarch’ is vieux jeu
now we have the means to show a living
likeness of this Scottish Queen to subjects
of three kingdoms she lays claim to.
She craves true fame, not just title
and dominion, waves aside my mild
objection that, hitherto, majesty discretely
veiled, a little distant, has benefited all
thrones. “No, Sir. Your skill at chiaroscuro
betrays you. Shadow as though it were not
shadowed is best shadowed for the modern
monarch. Draw me in sunlight, always.”
I bowed. Except the engravers’ guilds
won’t wear it, down tools and picket
La Monnaie du Moulin, lament the loss
of art such sleight of hand entails;
hands useless now, laid off, quite
hammerless. I see both points of view
because I am a stranger and a simple
portraitist. Coloured chalk’s my medium:
easily erased, begun again if sovereigns
don’t fancy too much light. I’ll play
for time: the weak boy King trails
in her wake of wrist frills and snaking
curls. He won’t outlive the strike
and Mary may return to Scotland
where they can’t make out the detail
on their coins through fogs of dull
theocracy. She’ll have no French head,
Scottish? And England: that’s the stuff
of dream or nightmare. I have to weigh
the risks you see: a majesty’s displeasure
or the boycott of good clients, my friends
the chisellers, the hammerers, so soon
to be of yore. Ach, a right royal pickle!