Tuesday Poem: “The World Inverted: A Prophecy” by Zireaux

Qutub Minar in Delhi: ‘…gotmek the wyşka – a phallic slur we / Turkmen know well. It means: “devour / the minaret,” or “fell the tower.”‘

Of demons (dow) her lyrics spoke.
Of dark Aladdin’s cave from where
great sharks would fly, metallic Furies,
enormous monsters of the air
who’ll gotmek the wyşka – a phallic slur we
Turkmen know well. It means: “devour
the minaret,” or “fell the tower.”
Now, wait. I know what you’re thinking, Arcady.
The raving words of a mad slave-lady.

But no! She wasn’t mad. She’s not
mad now. My Noorya simply knew
the secrets of this world and through
her rants deciphered nature’s plot.
She sang of far-off islands, yes!
Demesnes where men in women’s dress
or male-resembling females reign.
A new – or tozey noohh (she mewed
the English, noohh) – unfairly gained,
noohh-land, noohh-world, with strange noohh food
which cooks so quickly when it’s set
in windowed cubes to pirouette
on lighted stages (yenil sahna);
noohh skies, noohh scapes, nooh flora and fauna.

And billboards tall as Qutub Minar
depicting woeful adolescents
in the nude; and incandescent
gambling parlors, closet-cars
that rise and fall a hundred meters
to eerie music; and groups of eaters
who dine with strange utensils, plates
of porcelain, daffodil wine, in seats
with sea-views, banquets that rotate
above the clouds! She sang of streets
athrong with teaming migrants, places
where every race of person races
from shop to shop – then stops, or stalls,
to pluck some money from the walls.

Of faces carved in filigreed
designs, she sang. Of men who feast
on men; and birds whose wings have ceased
to work for them. And sometimes she’d
divine a distant country cursed
with land that rumbles, boils and bursts
beneath a people so obsessed
with flashing totems, hand-held charms,
metallic idols which are pressed
against their ears, that no alarm
is felt; they do not hear the sounds
that boom and pulsate all around
just like – but far more dreadful, stronger –
a lover’s heart that beats no longer.

She spoke of desperate people throwing
themselves off precipices, diving
from highest bridges — yet surviving;
their downward progress somehow slowing,
stopping, even, Noorya claimed,
reversing direction, upward-aimed.
Bir dünýä tersi. “The world inverted.”
What could I make of her strange song?
All life bidüzgün, corrupted, perverted
by telbe myrat, desires gone wrong.

“Our lives,” she sang, “will be destroyed
by petty passions ill-employed.
By trash, by junk, by fleeting thrills
that over-cost and under-fill.”

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “When Capture Serves as Rapture’s Cause” by Zireaux

commissioned  a clan of wrestlers, body guards  and hired guns to make her feel  more safe

‘…commissioned / a clan of wrestlers, body guards / and hired guns to make her feel / more safe…’

And yet despite all this – despite
the joy we gave (and felt in giving),
the love received, the easeful living
we made, the fact – to mother’s delight –
we soon acquired an air-conditioned
sedan for her to ride in, commissioned
a clan of wrestlers, body guards
and hired guns to make her feel
more safe, the fact we even barred
the bus’s windows, locked and sealed
the doors each night so we’d be sure
our fortune (Noorya) slept secure
within – despite all this, indeed,
despite the sense that we’d been freed

from penury and risk, that we
could bribe officials now, obtain
convincing passports, entertain
both old and new-crowned royalty,
receive – some six or seven times –
awards from DREAM (Dept. of Rhymes,
Emotions, Artful Musings), sing
for tourists, foreign dignitaries,
directors of movies, visiting
jihadists, church groups, missionaries,
hippies in Volkswagen buses – despite
the grand chateau and ambient site
of forest-edged, lacustrine lawn
amidst the hills near Sheberghan

and where our choral cavalcade
would holiday (what beauty, Arcady!
The hot afternoons beside the shady
swimming pond, our meals arrayed
on giant rugs with servants to chase
the monkeys away!) – a magic place,
a Dome of Pleasure, a Palace of Song –
despite all this success – and so
much more ahead! – something was wrong.

Perhaps it was the undertow
one feels when riding buoyant waves.
Or maybe thoughts of Noorya gave
us pause; for shouldn’t it give one pause
when capture serves as rapture’s cause?

If you’re not palpably, scalpably poor,
with dirty clothes, and nearly dead,
then Fate locks cross-hairs on your head.

But there was something else far more
disturbing, Arcady. Something even
now I’d rather not believe in,
out here, on this tiny isle, unkempt
and hungry, dispossessed of hope
or anything else that might just tempt
the world to fix us in its scope;
but which I can’t forget: The way
her cries (which didn’t, at first, convey
a meaning, as such, or something sensible)
began to sound more comprehensible.

Priestess of Delphi (1891), by John Collier.

Priestess of Delphi (1891), by John Collier: ‘…her glazy gazes / seemed perceptive…’

I mean to say, that slowly her wailing
began to make sense. Those languid lips,
serenely-lined (though veil-eclipsed
and often gagged) were soon exhaling
wisps of words, aphasic phrases;
and now, as well, her glazy gazes
seemed perceptive, as if what she
was singing was something we call haydys
in Turkmen – in English: prophecy.

And while our troupe performed their latest
songs and I half-napped amongst an
eruption of pillows (or laps of drunken
nymphs) inside my private tent,
or lounged with rose and olive scents

on shaded ottomans behind
our colonnaded palace porch,
I heard her words. I felt them scorch
the happy arbors of my mind,
and cloud my future with their smoke.

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “Chasing its Serenading Glitter” by Zireaux

'...our comet-coach... / , ...with dangling ornaments arrayed / around its rims, celestial made / and often tailed with children chasing /  its serenading glitter....'

‘…our comet-coach… / …with dangling ornaments arrayed / around its rims, celestial made / and often tailed with children chasing / its serenading glitter….’

Sayeed continued…

‘We rode, we toured, performed, inveigled
our meals and paid the driver well.
He bought a coat with huge lapels
and hired some cleaning boys, bedraggled
barefoot, lean, yet proudly dressed
in bellhop suits with fanning crests
atop their orange pugrees (what you
in the West call “turbans”). He painted the bus
a stunning, vibrant blue – a blue
as minty-cool and luminous
as Noorya’s burka when she’d sit
up top, above the windshield, lit
up by the morning’s ginger glow
and crooning to a crowd below.

That light! That morning sun! It seemed
throughout the day to follow us,
our comet-coach, our nebu-bus,
festooned, beribboned, tinsel-streamed,
with dangling ornaments arrayed
around its rims, celestial made
and often tailed with children chasing
its serenading glitter.

                                              We’d blaze
across the abstract earth, replacing
antique browns and bitter grays
with freakish prismatic rays of sound;
a streak of iridescence crowned
with instruments, and one blue gem
in front — my wife — inspiring them.

We rarely – no, never did decline
an invitation to perform.
We played in rain, in thunder storms,
in sleet and heat. We played in shrines,
in stadiums, for jugglers, dancers,
mystics, shamans in a trance, or
even once (I’ve sworn to keep
the place a secret, but near Kabul),
we lulled a baby prince to sleep.
To every type of mosque and school
we’d come, to every army camp
we’d drive, or sometimes park and tramp
up to some mountain rebel cave
to sing beside a martyr’s grave.

'...cinemas, picnics, wedding parties, / bloody games of Oglak-tartis /  (or “snatch the goat”)...'

‘…cinemas, picnics, wedding parties, / bloody games of Oglak-tartis / (or “snatch the goat”)…’

To camel fairs near Kandahar,
and poppy fields where tribal chiefs
would meet, and Mazar-e-Sharif’s
resplendent parks, and arms bazaars,
and cinemas, picnics, wedding parties,
bloody games of Oglak-tartis
(or “snatch the goat”) – to village zones,
remote locales, where we would score
the weekly movie on a lone,
anemic TV set, which poor
malnourished crowds had gathered round
(a chair for it; for them, the ground);
or where we sang for traveling actors
performing plays of dubious fact or

fantastical fiction, or both together,
with devils, witches, serpents, jinns
cavorting with mock Americans
in heels, lorgnettes, sunglasses, feather
boas, gloves and so forth – Arcady,
I tell you! In every trip we made we
found new life, new notes to play,
new compositions, states of mind,
new reasons to sing, new formulae
of beauty. Our bus became a kind
of pollinating thing, a humming
bird, a twitting lorry, thrumming
and nectar-sipping, tune to tune,
story to story, bloom to bloom.’

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “The Whirligig of Noorya’s Screams” by Zireaux

A manually spun Ferris Wheel of the kind described by Mr. Sayeed. Photo by Richard Alois.

A manually spun Ferris Wheel like the one described in the poem by Mr. Sayeed. Photo by Richard Alois.

‘Around the umbral shale, a dress
– with pink and purple thistles gemmed –
of courtly mountains river-hemmed
and cloudy wigs a powdered mess,
we gamely rode. Our flautist followed
on foot, but soon the landscape swallowed
his shrinking shape behind us. Later,
that eve, we met again, five miles
outside a twinkling Herat, where raiders
of Persian stock (quite nice, all smiles,
and courteous to Noorya) accosted
us gently, then stole our horses.

                                                                Exhausted,
we made our beds and ate our meal
in the wind-rocked cars of an old Ferris Wheel.

What noise, what noise that night composed!
Our rickety wheel a tambourine
for wild Aeolus to jangle between
my Noorya’s squeals. While contra-posed
to this, the swaying siren of
our piper’s flute (one cradle above
my mother’s, two from mine); and soon
there was more – more noise! A glumly yakking
harmonium; the strum and croon
of a zither; a pair of thumbs attacking
a tabla – our great shrill-mill, our gyre,
our rumpus ring, our compassed choir,
our disc of discord, so to speak,
gave symphony to Noorya’s shrieks.

What strange, what strangled sounds! A riot
of mangled music, notes like blades
upon a monstrous grindstone played.
By dawn our whirligig was quiet
yet filled with riders, musicians, like monks
in blankets wrapped, each in his bunk
– or wooden seat with metal bar –
ensconced in sleep.

                                             We travelled then,
my mother, Noorya, me and our
new troupe, an un-looped group of ten,
atop a tilting bus between
the camel-colored hills, through green-
lipped valleys, fertile mouths agape
with rippled rows of pear and grape.

Alfalfa fields; and apricot
in leafless tangled sprawls; and squalls
of dust cavorting round the walls
of some old fortress lost in thought.
We rode, we rode, and when our dour,
intemperate driver stopped each hour
for absinth tea, or when repairs
were needed, or army troops detained
us half a day, our band would blare!
Our drums would thrum! And Noorya’s pained
and plangent cries would slowly rise
– a kite of grief, a flight of sighs –
into the wild and frosty winds,
all strung to earth by violins.’

Sayeed looked dreamy here; the night
assuaging him with milky light.

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “On Meeting the Flautist” by Zireaux

The Flute Player by Marc Chagall

The Flute Player by Marc Chagall

‘By noon we searched our gear, unpleated
an old and flimsy map. My mother
calmly scanned it. We ate another
pomegranate; while Noorya, seated
behind me, shrouded in blue, repelled
our fruits.

                                 By dusk, a red-hot weld
of clouds dripped sparks of luminescence
upon the distant dale to mark
a village. We heard the sound of peasants
relating stories in the dark;
and further off, diluted in
the crickets’ hum, harsh violins
and drums and squabbling tambourines
disputed what a marriage means.

Then to Mashhad we travelled. A bright
and bristly sky – the flakes of snow,
on touching down, would quickly stow
their parachutes of white. Each night
my wakeful mother watched for spies,
assassins, hints of some surprise
attack. Whatever trace of guilt did
niggle her, convinced her, too,
one’s fellow cutthroats shouldn’t be jilted.
They’ll track you down. They’ll torture you.
And Noorya slept all tied and twisted
in scarves, her hands concealed, a fisted
bundle underneath her chin,
her mouth held in a scarf-bound grin.

So cold it got! So cold! Much colder
even than this cold rock, the breeze
from these refrigerating seas
which keep us fresh, Arcady.

                                                                  I told her,
“Mother, we need to rest, find shelter,
get warm.”

                                 Some fear, however, compelled her
to propel our horses on;
some angst aroused a new suspicion:
a merchant’s smirk, a soldier’s yawn,
a drunken minstrel’s disposition
when singing of the local ghosts.
While Noorya, tightly trussed, was most
distrusted by mother:

                                                    “Not even gagging
will stop a woman’s tongue from wagging.”

“But mother,” I begged. “My Noorya wastes
and withers away. Just hear her groans
and gasps; and how, in dreadful tones,
she shrieks her name, as if, misplaced
in time, or in her reason lost,
she can’t locate herself.”

                                                                  We crossed
into Afghanistan and slept
inside a wreck of rusted truck,
which several months before had leapt
beyond a highway’s bend and struck
a passing riverbed a thousand
feet below.

                                 That morning we roused, then
we dressed amidst the crocodilian
surface of rocks which by the billions

lined the winter-slimmed and mountain-
shadowed stream. Who’s there? Beside
our fallen lorry’s painted hide
(a mural of courtyards, neon fountains,
palm trees, huts, electric trains
and one enormous gorilla, planes
encircling his head, a busty, black-haired
film-star in his fist), we saw
a stranger huddled in furs and lacquered
in daybreak’s dew.

                                                      We helped him thaw
and found a weapon in his suit
of rugs and rags and wraps. A flute,
alas; a pipe of hollowed bone
which he, throughout the night, had blown.’

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “Noorya” or “A Peg of Hazelnut Liqueur” by Zireaux

Prometheus Bound, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618.

Prometheus Bound, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618.

‘And sometimes…or rather, once. Her name
was Noorya. Not mild or docile, like dozens
of girls we saved. Dull-witted she wasn’t.
But rather shifty in her shame,
farouche, perplexing, graceful, grave,
with nocturne eyes that cast their gaze
toward some akin-imagined star;
her features sharp and delicate, fair
as violet-tinted nenuphar
in dusky pond or swampy lair.

A blue-eyed deputy of mine,
a Salyr bloke named Nur, designed
to steal her from me, thinking she
adored him, so mad in love was he.

Now understand, he was courageous
and strong, this man, yet thoughtful, shy.
affectionate. Like a brother I
considered him. The nineteen pages
of his importunate letter, which quivered
one morning atop my slippers (delivered
by a blushing Noorya), deftly
netted each criminal thought, each erring
event that had stolen his heart – “a theft re-
gretted, my lord.” He wrote of “caring
for Noorya more than himself.” His love
for her was like “the sprouting of
my beard, my hair” – a thing he could
“shave off, great Prince, but not for good.”

“A thing that uninvited came.
When Noorya said she loved me, too,
I knew that I must write to you,
my lord, requesting her hand. Our names,
you must admit, good Master — so near
are they in sound, that when you hear
them spoke, you’d swear that fate betrothed
us at our birth! I know the sort
of man you are, your greatness. You loathe
deceit but honor honest reports.
And hence, my Lordship, I’ve here confessed
the truth. No more, no less.”

                                                                Impressed
at Nur’s good sense, I let decorum
prevail; to make things easy for him.

He chose the “Orchestra Pit” (a ditch
nearby, some forty meters deep,
in which the flies around a heap
of corpses strummed their strident pitch)
when given three options: “Tied upon
a rock for vultures to ravage;” “Drawn
and quartered by horses;” “Premature burial
in burning sand.”

                                                 My Noorya, possessed
by troubling trances, dreams, vicarial
visions of things to come, confessed,
alas, to fearing for my survival.

“Nur’s only crime is being your rival
in love,” she spat, her blood-rimmed eyes
serene, unmoving. “The men will rise

against you, surely.”

                                                     I said I knew
my men: “Their minds are tame. Their will
for mutiny mild.”

                                                 “If Nur is killed,”
she vowed, “I’ll hurl myself into
that putrid pit and there will lie
with him forever.”

Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus by unknown artist, 15th century. "Drawn / and quartered by horses..."

Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus by unknown artist, 15th century. “Drawn / and quartered by horses…”

                                                 “But darling, why
allow such drifting thoughts to pilot
reason’s course? I won’t be harmed,
I promise you” – yet when my smile met
poor Noorya’s eyes, opaquely charmed
with somber premonitions, I knew
I couldn’t dispel her fears.

                                                        “You’ll do
as I instruct you,” mother consoled me
when I recounted what Noorya had told me.

My mother’s cure?

                                                 The eve of Nur’s
appointed death, some fifty men
and I had finished supper when
– a peg of hazelnut liqueur
upraised – I stood and…

                                                         “Nur, old friend,
in poetry we oft emend
a faulty line, which once, in other
times felt right to us; and thereby show
mistake and wisdom both. My brother,
to your soft honesty I know
my reflex was too rough, too rash;
so let’s cross out my error, let’s dash
that stupid sentence.”

                                                 I’d done precisely
as mother had counseled: “Approach them nicely.

Put enemies at ease. Becharm
your men with fey contrition.”

                                                                    I smiled
at them, a grownup to a child,
and pledged that Nur would meet no harm.
And when I granted this reprieve,
what toasts they sang, what songs!

                                                                             Relieved,
my thankful Noorya, having many
nights refused, agreeably slept
beside me that night; with few, if any,
suspicions. And when my mother crept
into our curtained chamber and wrapped
– and bound – a rug around my trapped
night-angel, so pacific were her
dreams, our woolen sack didn’t stir her.

And when her muffled screams, at last,
gave voice to the convulsing worm
that was our bundled rug, held firm
with knotted twine, my men were fast
asleep – especially Nur, unfaithful
friend, who’d reached, no doubt, the wraith-ful
end of sleep, to put it tastefully
(mother’s poison having persuaded
his sleep to snuff his life).

                                                        Hastily,
we left unseen, unheard, evaded
the dogs, and to my moonlit horse
strung kicking Noorya. We set our course
to Pollux’s star, due south. By dawn
we’d crossed the hills into Iran.’

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “The Severed Head of Some Old Statesman” by Zireaux

Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist, Andrea Solario, 1506-1507.

Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist, Andrea Solario, 1506-1507.

‘You make no utterance, good Robinson.
Nor need you. Of all the men to whom
I’ve told this tale, not one has fumed
less foully here than me – not one!
Perhaps your thoughts, my friend, are tuned
to private channels – or worse, cocooned
in mad and muddled silence! – and you
hear nothing of my tale. Why even
then I know, great man, that you’d be true
to justice, and “eyes-for-eyes” believe in.

How beautiful my mother stood
in jeweled dress and armored hood;
and O how gratefully I kneeled
before her, and for her sword appealed.

This time I did not fail to slice
the sallow sagging throat of he
whose ulcers my poor bride-to-be
had died from. My sword was swift, precise,
and loosed the fluid of his labored
life; and as I drew my saber
back, now crimson-rimmed, exultant
cheers of fifty men (plus one
loud ululating mother) vaulted
round the ocher, orange and dun
dimensions of the cave and crashed
in one immense, galvanic flash
of glory in my drunken mind.
Such glory never again I’d find.’

Sayeed grew quiet, then slowly returned
to where he every night sojourned
upon a plank of wood, his bed,
with glory swimming in his head.

Next dawn, he carried on…

‘For eighteen months we camped within
those brittle Kopeh Daghs, the scree
and scrub and wild cherry trees
and hawks with circling discipline
forever polishing the glazed
and glossed azure. And on the days
we couldn’t endure another pot
of prune and weasel soup, we’d raid
the northern streets of Ashgabat
for jams and sweets and cold orangeade
from kitchen refrigerators, and I
– now loyal “Bandit Prince” to my
“Queen Mum” – would bring the severed head
of some old statesman who had wed

a bonny, tearful, illiterate wench
still soft with adolescence. Crusaders,
we were, with weapons our persuaders!
(How well disposed are men when drenched
in their own blood).

                                                 These poor young brides
who’d stand dumbfounded, zestful-eyed,
distressful-browed, a long dark braid
held tight within their hand, these child-slaves
to marriage vows and dowries paid
who my brave rebels fought to save
from lecherous masters – they rarely showed
us gratitude. They usually owed
their families money; and this would haunt them:
the terrible thought their parents wouldn’t want them.

These girls would beg us – “please! Please shoot
us dead! You’ve freed us from a noose
which held us loft, but cut us loose
above a pit of disrepute!”

And sometimes, some cases, especially when
these poor performing tragediennes
would tune their whimpers just right and wilt
their mournful bodies like a flower-
burdened stem, my men – by guilt
or greed or pity overpowered –
would plead with me to take one in.

And sometimes, to my men’s chagrin,
I might refuse; and when I complied,
the girl with me alone would ride.

And sometimes…or rather, once. Her name
was Noorya…’

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “In Never-Ending Sleep they Slouched” by Zireaux

'Not since that warrior, Nisus / slaughtered Turnus’s drunken louts /  have so few soldiers been able to route / so many!'

‘Not since that warrior, Nisus, / slaughtered Turnus’s drunken louts /
have so few soldiers been able to route /
so many!’

“For you, my son, did I recruit
these men and steal these guns. Yet I
knew well such well-armed men will try
to blow up melons for some fruit!
That’s how they are. They do not think!
They’d rather drink and whore (and drink
still more) and shoot their guns, than use
their wilted wits. I knew we’d need
a plan. I knew, without some clever ruse,
our prison raid would never succeed.
So I decided: Food! Yes, food
could fell your prison guards; and you’d
be saved, dear child, before the sunlight
appeared – saved, without a gun-fight.

But I was worried. The guards, I guessed
would feed you, too; and hence devised
my menu so it tranquilized,
not killed.”

                                She continued: “The moon was dressed
in bridal silver. It rose above
the dunes, as if your ladylove
(her cheek still spotted) had come to cast
her beams on all the blood we’d spill.

And how it shined, that blood! How fast,
unclotted it flowed, in glossy rills
down eyes unopened, bodies slumped,
as we in every forehead pumped
another deafening bullet. And those
we’d yet to shoot so happ’ly dozed!

A dozen men dispatched without
a fight, their brains like sudden creepers
growing on the walls, as deeper
in never-ending sleep they slouched
and briefly twitched and shuddered, their spinal
spasms a meek reply, a final,
weak retort to our atrocity.

This band of rebels, these men renowned
for crim’nal kindness, saluted me.
And ’mongst the prisoners we found
– and freed – some twenty of their companions
(some more await us in those canyons
up yonder). These men, as you’ll have noted,
are now to me – and you — devoted.

Dear son! Not since that warrior, Nisus,
slaughtered Turnus’s drunken louts
have so few soldiers been able to route
so many! And all because of my spices.”

We’d entered now the foothills’ heath.
The dust, the crumbling marl beneath
our horses’ hooves. The scattered thickets.
The slathering moss on gathering rocks.
A fret of sound and substance, crickets
and flies less keen on hearing the talk
of our approaching, victorious riders
than making us attend the stridor
of theirs – like children who can’t resist
recounting things adults have missed.

And in that swelling vibrant hum
of chirping ash and limestone-shattered
sun our horses climbed and clattered;
and heaved and huffed.

                                                        I said, “O mum!
How strange it was, the way the din
of your avenging guns resounded in
my dreams – ”

                                      “O son! So potent my potion,
on seeing you sleeping like that, I judged
you might be dead!” – and here emotion
contorted her sun-parched lips.

                                                                        We trudged
down thorny, hawthorn-clotted slopes
and reached a cave.

                                                   Inside, with ropes
tied tight around his arms and legs,
a man for my forgiveness begged.

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “The Bandit Queen Mum” by Zireaux

A Persian sharpshooter on horseback; not meant to represent Sayeed's mother -- who is obviously more fully bedecked in battle gear -- but an approximation nonetheless.

A Persian sharpshooter on horseback; not meant to represent Sayeed’s mother — who is obviously more fully bedecked in battle gear — but an approximation nonetheless.

‘Arcady, dear man! It was a kiss,
a kiss upon my brow — which I’d
assumed my birth-marked spirit-bride
delivered – that from the deep abyss
of death awakened me. At first
I thought, believing I’d traversed
life’s threshold, surely I must be
in paradise. Two jasmine eyes,
two sprites of wild chalcedony,
were there to seize and mesmerize
my searching gaze amidst what seemed
a crown, or bright aurora, that gleamed
in silver filigree. I heard
the clink of beads and chains that stirred

as those soft lips and eyes withdrew,
receding in the sun-washed sky
and yet remaining there so I
could see her warrior’s regalia, view
with tender eyes, through bright parhelion
bursts, the gemstones (pale carnelian
drops and turquoise orbs) that studded
her headgear, chest-plate, gilded bracelets.
The succulence which once had budded
‘midst all that metal – I still could taste it!
And now I saw her bright gold teeth
and apple cheeks – but strange! Beneath
her nose some blood had sprung
and round her neck a rifle hung!

What hair I saw was tangled stiff
as dried-out scrub or lichen browned
and ruddy in the sun. And round
her bursting, beaming head, as if
the afterlife had played the oddest
of jests and she a Hindu goddess
had become, a group of heads
were gathered – retreating once they caught
my eye. They stood and cheered and fed
the sky a spate of bullets shot
up from their guns. Not angels, no.
But goondas, drunks, Borachios,
rapscallions, muggers, thieves and thugs.
And each, from mother, received a hug.

The desert dust was crackling in
my ears; the distant mountains gleamed
in rosy heat, and on what seemed
my strangely carbonated skin
and clothes the sand-flies leapt in steady
effervescence. The horses were ready,
resplendent Akhal-Tekes, all sheen
and twitch, with gold and silver bridles,
and tasseled rugs incarnadine
beneath their saddles. My mum (her title
now “Bandit Queen” in all the martial
handbills) slung me like a parcel
on her chestnut mare and raced
away, her followers apace.

In throbbing hot and dessert-muted
trot we jangled toward the hills.
My dear mum’s voice rang loud and shrill:

“My son! If I had not d’luted
the valerian root and hemlock weed
with raisins, carrots, poppy seeds
and year-old sorghum malt, why you’d
be but a corpse beside me, dear boy!
Had I not well-disguised my brew’s
repulsive mouse-fur scent with soy
and honey, garlic salt and onion,
your twice-killed corpse would now be hung in
that dank, putrescent prison yard!
They’d sworn they’d hang you regardless, those guards.

For they at first believed they’d spotted
my plot; that my bereaved appeal
to cook one last and mem’rable meal
before the hangman’s noose had knotted
your throat was my maternal attempt
to poison your dinner and thus preempt
their morning murder. But O how truthful
appears a desperate mother’s deceit!
They tested the food with silly, sleuth-ful
sniffings. They even made me eat
a bit of mutton (but I’d divined
this trick and taken an anodyne
of nightshade). I knew they’d never oppose
a meal so thrilling to the nose.”‘

…tbc
_____
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.

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Tuesday Poem: “A Sideways Raining of Metal” by Zireaux

Makhtumkuli, or Magtimguli, Magtymguly, was a Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet, born 1733 in Iran, died 1797.

Makhtumkuli, or Magtimguli, or Magtymguly, was a Turkmen spiritual leader and philosophical poet, born 1733 in Iran, died 1797.

‘My mother, Arcady, a widowed furrier
and skilled equestrian, hearing the news
her only son was sentenced to lose
his life, was swept by such a fury, her
screams were even more fierce and tireless
than when that mother of Euryalus,
in Virgil’s song was told her son
was fed to dogs. Or when Jocasta’s
abandoned son became the one
she’d wed! Arcady! They say love lost is
madness found! This proverb fits
most aptly for mothers, isn’t it?
Forgive me, friend, your quiet demeanor
suggests you view my grass as greener.

But do not worry! Rescue will come!

I remember the night of my execution.
As if to loosen, or rather, un-noosen
the growing strain (for O, how glum
my guards became, in some ways dearer
to me than lovers, as death drew nearer),
it was decided I’d share a dinner
with my polite and cousinly captors.
Last meals are granted to death-facing sinners
in Turkmen custom, but only after
the crook is hanged (those gastro-requests
are for the hangman to ingest);
so what an honor it was to be
that night’s regaled celebrity.

And what a marvelous meal was sprawled
across the sofreh’s silk – the nans
like fighters’ shields, the lightly bronzed
and basted dumplings (mantί it’s called)
as tender as angels’ lips, and heaps
of sticky palav from which the sheep’s
fat trickled down our arms! The chal
(cool camel’s milk) was rich with cream,
the sweets with grenadine, and all
of it, each taste called forth a dream
more vivid than epic visions stirred
by Makhtumkuli when he, with curd,
would mix his bread; or Proust when he
would taste his madeleines with tea.

For I was due to die at dawn!
And here the food on which I fed
reminded me of what was spread
before me in my youth, the nan
and mutton, rice and soup all nicely
garnished, stuffed and spiced precisely
as mother would do. We hugged and toasted
with ardent, woeful farewells, the guards
and I; and never with better hosts did
I let nagging sleep retard
a happier evening – for never such ease
and satisfaction I’d felt, or pleased
with life I’d been as during that splendid
banquet, convinced my life had ended.

A moment later it seemed (so deep
my sleep!) those same lamenting men
who’d sworn with mugs aloft that when
I died a thousand days they’d weep,
seized hold my flaccid arms and legs
and like a boat on water dragged
my calm, blindfolded figure toward
the misty courtyard’s scaffold. I heard
a kind of off-key harpsichord,
a flight of swallows crying. The blurred
perception of a wall. I sensed
my bearers press my back against
its cool damp stones to sit unaided.
They left me there; and there I waited.

The cock and lock of old dragoons
(I thought I would be hanged, by God!
But did it matter? A firing squad,
I mused, was just as good) and soon
a bullet – a swift, unloosed and feral
mastiff – out from a gunner’s barrel
was shot and bit straight through my skin!
It tickled, I swear! It tickled and made
me laugh! Another was fired and in
my chest it sunk. A fusillade
I heard, at last, as the remaining
guns unleashed a sideways raining
of metal upon me, with deafening pops,
yet landing soft as water drops.’

…tbc
_____
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.

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