They Tried to Burn My King Today: Part III

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greek cave pool santorini

The first two parts may be read here and here.

Book Three

To be as rich as Croesus, or to live without
a care? These matching oars, once mastered
by our helmsmen, twin plowshares that rode easy
in a tiller’s hands, the world has split to either/or.
Your name, dear king—a mockery by tyrants
and vintners of the sour grape—I call
in secret, and you never fail to come. I do not ask
permission of the domed or steepled lot. I let them
plot and scratch. Your pillow talk I still recall:
break loose your trim ship’s hawsers, haul

the baggage of your past and toss it to the dolphins!
History is not, you loved to say, the purview of
the winners but the ones afraid of what comes next.
Your counsel to Great Cyrus could not penetrate
the circles of disdain and scorn that mottled
his fine spirit, though a few did understand.
Freed men and widows, wealthy now beyond imagining,
you’ll find them on no Senate floor or king’s list,
but they’re teaching younger generations well to hand
the anchor from its harbor nest, and stand

among the growing mass who knows there is no
victimhood, only the choice of each to limit or allow.
Your tolerance of wealth, my beloved Croesus,
knows no boundaries. Your opting to ascend
to legend frees us both. Today, I am no concubine.
Nameless as I ever was, you’ll find no grand
or mawkish monuments to one of thousands who
adored you, but I know what we achieved, and why
you set me on that boat, with Apollo’s helping hand,
up into the trade winds off the headland.

So, now I turn to you, dear reader, impatient
in your search for all that’s new. I see the scimitars
of doubt you try to hide; I hid them too, until I met
the richest king who’d ever lived and walked
broad streets absent of poverty, no crime,
and all deaths natural, in their time. The trails
we left are narrow, yes, but clean as an arrow’s arc.
If you would just give up concern; the king was never
burned! Your golden talent’s limitless. Forget travails,
your woven, patched, and thrice stitched sails.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

If you’ve been reading Oceantics for awhile, glosas will be nothing new to you. One of my goals is to restore this glorious Spanish medieval form to appreciative modern audiences. My novella of horror and good medicine, Dead Edit Redo, creeps into the darkest mysteries of the glosa. My compatriot of sorts, Alain C. Dexter, published a whole book of them called Dead to Rights. And while we’re on the topic of self promotion, please take a peek at my newest novel of mystery and magical realism, Daughters of Babylon.

Now I should like to give credit to two other poets, without whom this glosa could not have been written. Antipater of Sidon lived in Greece in the 2nd century. His poem, “The Bidding of the Harbor God”, forms the tenth line of every stanza and drives the glosa’s rhyme scheme. The masterful translation is by Sherod Santos, an American poet and author of Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation. I’ve included Antipater’s full poem here, Santos’s translation, so you, too, can appreciate the talent of both poets.

The Bidding of the Harbor God

Take your thwarts, oarsmen, it’s time to carve
new sea-lanes through the breasting swells.
Wild gales no longer avalanche the shoals
or harrow the rigging of a sail’s nerve,

and already out of mud and clay, swallows
build their jug-nests underneath your eaves.
So quickly now, before the gulled moon leaves
its slumberous lightweight in the meadows,

break loose your trim ship’s hawsers, haul
the anchor from its harbor nest, and stand
up into the trade winds off the headland
your woven, patched, and thrice stitched sails.

—Antipater of Sidon, circa 150 BCE
Translation by Sherod Santos, © 2005

They Tried to Burn My King Today: Part II

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gold coin

Part One can be read here.

Book Two

Apollo, source of flame and light, you responded
as you always do to rapture by accelerating
vortices, this time, from my brave king whose body
writhed upon his pyre and the bobble-headed foe
embroiled by injustices, taxations, denominators
low and common. From these ebbs and flows,
the god whose logic cringes from the brine of
lazy minds assigned a coolness to the fire,
shot killing sparks from kindling yarrows;
and already out of mud and clay, swallows

plunged at eyes and ears of executioners
as if upon a field of rye, while from the pyre
roars of carefree laughter poured. The commoners,
my king’s beloved, cried and pointed out, “Behold
our Majesty, he thrives!” The fire hissed and cooled
to blue; ‘twas even said, the golden, gathered sheaves
of harvest threw out seeds ten times their weight
and burnt the skin of the invaders. My sister concubines
set out in cheery droves to fill their skirts and sleeves,
build their jug-nests underneath your eaves.

Oh, my sweet king, how richly you display
unfailing prowess of abundance. Tales reached me
here in exile of the frantic reconsiderings of Cyrus
when he learned his greatest rival would not burn.
The officers not blinded disassembled cedar barely
scorched. They wrapped you in a poultice made of leaves
of laurel, and to Persia they dispatched you as high
counsel to the emperor. Our vaults of gold, I’m told,
have all been plundered. While the citizenry grieves,
so quickly now, before the gulled moon leaves,

I recreate ten times what you and I amassed in Lydia.
The means, I came to know by heart, thought, womb,
and though I’d rather have you by my side and
in my bed, I know your task of disempowering
the easily dispirited provides the ballast that
we need, so I consent to sleeping only with those
whose appetites o’erride the miserly and jealous.
Such men are rare but worth the ecstasy. The grid
of our economy refreshed now swiftly grows
its slumberous lightweight in the meadows.

to be concluded…

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

If you’ve been reading Oceantics for awhile, glosas will be nothing new to you. One of my goals is to restore this glorious Spanish medieval form to appreciative modern audiences. My novella of horror and good medicine, Dead Edit Redo, creeps into the darkest mysteries of the glosa. My compatriot of sorts, Alain C. Dexter, published a whole book of them called Dead to Rights. And while we’re on the topic of self promotion, please take a peek at my newest novel of mystery and magical realism, Daughters of Babylon.

Now I should like to give credit to two other poets, without whom this glosa could not have been written. Antipater of Sidon lived in Greece in the 2nd century. His poem, “The Bidding of the Harbor God”, forms the tenth line of every stanza and drives the glosa’s rhyme scheme. The beautiful translation of his poem is by Sherod Santos, an American poet and author of Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation. Thank you, both!

They Tried to Burn My King Today: a Glosa in 3 Parts

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Croesus on the pyre_amphora Louvre

They tried to burn my king today.
They built the pyre thrice the height
of men, in mockery of his grand station.
With care, they spaced the costly cedar
cords, marched disloyal factions of our court
to desert cells to interrogate and starve.
The conquerors, for all their nubile spies
and numbers, could not see the flaming twists
of wind their actions stirred along the wharf.
Take your thwarts, oarsmen, it’s time to carve…

To threads of silk, my heart is torn.
Our bed of down, by now, will grace
some harem’s chamber, stripped of gold
perhaps, the jewels pried, replaced
with paste. What need have shallow bowls
for authenticity? With a single toll of bells,
entire populations roll like hungry dogs
for bone. My king and I spoke often
with the harbour god of this, who spells
new sea-lanes through the breasting swells.

We lay in wait, the crew and refugees
inside a cove until the smoke rose high
and black in coils across unguarded sky.
All eyes would now be turned to watch
the immolation of the world’s richest,
most contented man. Their hearts like coals
were shriveling, throats envy-choked. Our captain
gave the sign: unfurl the sails. We slipped like
eels to open sea, rode easily the tides and folds.
Wild gales no longer avalanche the shoals.

An inky strip of cloud informed my soul
that naked flame had reached my lover’s
back. A pair of black-capped terns swooped
low to tell me he’d cried out. I echoed him.
I know that sound! The captain saw my tears.
A kindly man, he from his steering swerved
to comfort me, and this I took with grace
to hide the joy beneath my sorrow. No one
could know my sweet king’s verve
or harrow the rigging of a sailor’s nerve.

to be continued…

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image of Croesus on the Pyre, Attican amphora, from Wikipedia

If you’ve been reading Oceantics for awhile, glosas will be nothing new to you. One of my goals is to restore this glorious Spanish medieval form to appreciative modern audiences. My novella of horror and good medicine, Dead Edit Redo, creeps into the darkest mysteries of the glosa. My compatriot of sorts, Alain C. Dexter, published a whole book of them called Dead to Rights. And while we’re on the topic of self promotion, please take a peek at my newest novel of mystery and magical realism, Daughters of Babylon.

Now I should like to give credit to two other poets, without whom this glosa could not have been written. Antipater of Sidon lived in Greece in the 2nd century. His poem, “The Bidding of the Harbor God”, forms the tenth line of every stanza and drives the glosa’s rhyme scheme. The beautiful translation of his poem is by Sherod Santos, an American poet and author of Greek Lyric Poetry: A New Translation. Thank you, both!

Let the River Clear

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261

A Triolet

I let the river clear itself, take counsel from the weeds
they’re weaving banks for dreaming to begin again

serenity, through secret routes, my deepest hunger feeds
I let the river clear itself, take counsel from the weeds

while currents bend, they dance and stem what bleeds
for minnows to plant silver, to set free the how and when

I let the river clear itself, take counsel from the weeds
they’re weaving banks for dreaming to begin again

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Photograph by author

I Turn My Other Cheeks

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walking-away1

Oh, ye of so much faith, absent of doubt
expounding with your foxy hosts on how
this world is sure to end, your ilk as spout
of wisdom to inform us, holy cow!
I should have changed the channel, but your beard
like gorse and bramble made me feel a-feared,
while from your steely eyes I saw no love,
just hardness locked inside a studded glove.
To those who kill, you promise death. Shoot! So
much better things I could take notice of.
I turn my other cheeks above, below.

We all have declarations we could shout
of independence, constitutions, vows
to break or to uphold. My native grout
holds just as firm as yours, and I allow
that you, within your borders, may feel seared,
remanifesting destiny dog-eared
and out of date. Your sovereignty of shove
when pushed, to hell with lamb and peaceful dove,
makes sense to intelligence wrought hollow
by rote and memorizing ghastly stuff.
I turn my other cheeks above, below.

I listened for ten minutes to your bout:
Galatians and Ephesians with your brow
all furrowed, disapproving, God’s own scout,
avenging angel, ratings to endow
continued wealth. It’s fine that you appear
on what they call reality, my dear.
TV is marketing, a slimy grub
at times whose mainstream I can barely glug.
But with the cameras off, what is your show?
Does subtlety exist within your trove?
I turn my other cheeks above, below.

I wonder, can you speak or think without
expressing vile nationhood? Do you know
how much you sound like them, the mad devout?
Your tribal god’s the one and same, low brow
and gauche, he’s of the baddest, meanest tier.
You think there is a heaven where he’ll cheer
for all you didn’t love and feel? No, guv,
your faith I do not share. I cannot prove
my stance and nor can you, so let’s just go
our separate ways. Good luck with your next move.
I turn my other cheeks above, below.

Yes, for this royal chant I made a lout
of you, as you do for the hooded brow-
beating fanatics who don’t care about
the peaceable and fair. Yet death will show
us all one day how thickly we were smeared
with rank stupidity, how we adhered
to flimsy self-defense, a shallow groove.
You can’t force me, I won’t fix you. The love
that brought us here will take us home. We’ll know
more than we ever did, nothing to prove.
I turn my other cheeks above, below.

Now, bearded one, go peaceful with that sub
machine gun attitude. I too shall rove
from day to day imagining a show
of might through words and rhyme I might improve…
I turn my other cheeks above, below.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Storm Fronts

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storm

coruscating thunder rolls across an eggplant sky
magenta lightning throws the silhouettes
of maple trees to borderline relief

no more will I deplete reserves
or segregate voluptuous from shrewd
to please the sad voyeurs and harsher prudes

and just when I’m deciding how to easily
acclimatize, a second front arrives
with bayonets and tridents, some alliance,
I suspect, of Thor and great Poseidon

pressing north to south like paddles
to resuscitate the heart, this is the fresh new
start of something I’d imagined from the cradle
now enriched with elements more stable

and those loiterers I used to think incapable
if not for me by thunderbolts have all been
goosed, set loose to find and disentangle
their own brambled disenchantments

while the storm fronts opened here
for business shower leaflets stating
moribund and glum prohibited
begone the lazy state of grave!

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image from Toronto Life

For You, the Figs Ripen

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figs

On this good day of days, I wonder if you’ve seen the bright stripes
of sun beaming through the window, or is your heart too shuttered?

The rain has stopped; old Rafiki is tuning his mandolin.
People bring jars to gather honey from the cracks in his voice.

Sara still speaks of the midwife who buried your cord to free
you of vendettas. For you, she said, figs will ripen early.

Why, now, do you pollute your mind with actions of evil men?
Every day, it’s harder for me to scrub the soot from your shirts.

Our fate is already sown into the grain of our coffins.
The olive tree knows for whom to bend and pour her fragrant oil.

Let us take the skiff in the morning to Paximadia.
Together, we’ll hunt the rosy pumice blessed by Artemis.

~~~

This is my first attempt at an ancient poetry form developed in the Mediterranean island of Crete. It is called mantinada, derived from Venetian for “morning song”. The couplets are decapentasyllabic, fifteen syllables per line, and are not required to rhyme. In its purest meter, there would be a midline caesura (pause). I let that go in favour of a more conversational style.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

E Words

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fish3

This one’s for you, Mrs. Chapman.

An escolar inesculent eructed at the table.
An elocutionist by calling, erumpent and most
erudite, the escolar exceptional eschewed
essential themes of ethics and economy,
ejaculating most effectively on eschatology.

If you could just elutriate, he said,
all thoughts of ‘ell and ‘eaven,
allow that moon’s evections
can effect (sic) the evenest
of minds, that evidence
and etymons empiricized
empoison some and others
elevate, I think you’d find
you would elude most fears
of death and end. Such
evanescent notions would
evapotranspirate, and you,
my friend, would fast evaginate—
like socks! And newly inside
out, you would experience
ecstatic, though I’ll grant you,
embryonic, new emergences
sans effort, sans unease.

~~~

This bit of free verse nonsense (with perhaps some hidden sense) began with my looking up an E word in Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate, © 1965, for something completely unrelated. I love older dictionaries because they hadn’t yet eliminated obsolete words and meanings to accommodate the notion of a dumbed down readership. The first Collegiate came out in 1898, and I’ll bet that one was even more fabulous!

Here is a loosely defined prose version of “E Words”.

An inedible fish resembling a mackerel belched at the table. A public speaker, bursting forth with learning, this very special fish tended to avoid topics of ethics and economy. Most of his utterances were about the end of the world.

“If you could just purify by washing out all thoughts of hell and heaven; accept that orbital disturbances of the moon can affect any of us; allow that observation and experience, proof, and word derivations will make some people bitter and others feel fantastic, I think you’d shake off most fears of termination and dying. Those flimsy notions would evaporate, they’d be pulled out, and you, my friend, will be turned inside out, like socks! While this new outlook may feel awkward at first, you’re going to enjoy fresh and glorious experiences, free of all struggle and worry.”

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image: Mackerel on Stone, artwork by Peter Gander

Here

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shell

Here, inside the angle
of my hypotenuse
perfection reigns

Here, inside the privacy
of ratio gold and leaning
ever more toward limitless
I happily ignore what does not
please in favour of the guidance
that propels me here
from point to line
from pulse to spine

and put my feet up while
the computations of intelligence
exorbitantly free of
more-or-less-however-but
congress and clarify
for pure, pure pleasure of—
that’s it—for pure, pure pleasure of…

and while that participle dangles
pulling in all elements cooperative
like prawns upon a hook with bite
enough to banish fish I do not wish
to be digested by, I casually observe
the opposite, pay tribute to adjacent

and while future softly laps
against perfection of the present,
I imagine that the poetries purported
to be lost of Apuleius and those others
from the Mystery Schools were never
lost at all—‘twas me who lost connection
to the stars, who wouldn’t try new angles
in the fear that someone else’s quarter
circle might be righter than. My word!
How could I think—it doesn’t matter
now, those days are gone.

Propulsion of today assures
me there’s no end point, never was,
that everybody’s fine, their angles
right and phi. I’ll meet you here.
There is no other place.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image from http://www.allthenightlong.com at deviantart

I’d Rather Know

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poet

I know poets who discard
their lines like trousers, shirt
and underwear from door to
bed, a hurried one-night stand
with somebody—they don’t
quite catch the name—
and whoosh, they’re gone.

Pressing in to what
he’s left behind, a slavering
crowd approves—why not,
for what could safer be
than catching drifts of
someone else’s ripples,
seventh hand seduction,
quick! Spectator’s game.

I know poets who
with charcoal palettes
draw precise and gloomy
verse that mostly sounds
the same, convincing all who
somberly agree to congregate
and read, of vast intelligence—
the poet’s, not the readers’.

I’d rather know a poet
who takes time to rise above
the melancholic, with wit enough
to shake his trousers upside down
for change, who knows my name,
feels eager in the dawn’s cool
light to spring from bed and
plant bare feet on new
and higher ground.

And more than this,
I know that readers too
who aren’t me would wriggle
deep and breathe a-fresh
to see the naked poet
pick his clothes up
off the floor and
put the coffee on.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
The gorgeous image comes from
http://www.thelatinoauthor.com

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