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.’
More Tuesday Poems at Tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com.