The Palace Hotel

by Paul A. Freeman
The Write Idea
Second Place, June 2020
Judged by Terese Coe

Atop a manmade hill,
the safe side of a steel-barred fence
stands the Palace Hotel;
it’s a dun box, surmounted by domes,
a living mausoleum
in these days of Covid isolation.

Within lies the luxury of Arabia;
fountained floors and swirly-scripted walls,
a cavernous atrium,
a vending machine dispensing bars of gold
that are neither edible
nor a Dutch uncle’s borrowed ear.

Guests are holed up inside,
their lives in suspended animation,
seeing out the pandemic
on caviar,
and exotic flavours of ice cream.

I peer through the railings from without,
a humbler Homo sapien than the residents,
uncaged for a two-hour walk, once daily,
on a viral planet,
at liberty to succumb as I will.

Face to the bars,
I crave the marooned expanse of the hotel grounds,
where pared trees pepper undulating lawns,
the grass blades as smoothly spliced as a sailor’s crew cut;
where a mirage of palm trees circles a landscaped oasis;
where, on a beach of synthetic sand,
rolling dunes are topped with an enigma of boulders –
freshly thrown dice
strewn by the deity that reads our misfortunes.

On the shoreline walks a Robinson Crusoe,
an escapee from hospitality’s confinement.
He’s searching the sand for Friday’s footprints,
a castaway with a bottomless purse,
but alone all the same.

The Palace is not a hotel but a “living mausoleum,” a repository of tombs. The poem gathers up surprise, appeal, and provocativeness, as in “where pared trees pepper undulating lawns . . .”

“Seeing out the pandemic” is hopeful (or not—at least it sounds strangely hopeful), and stands in opposition to “at liberty to succumb at will.” The latter might refer to the current trend of partying in the streets and outdoors, which may or may not be safe, depending on numerous factors:

“rolling dunes are topped with an enigma of boulders -
freshly thrown dice
strewn by the deity that reads our misfortunes.”

The final stanza is enigmatic as well: “an escapee from hospitality’s confinement” is dodgy and contradictory, much like Covid-19, but far more enjoyable.

--Terese Coe