In the courts of Kiev, a certain alchemist
came to own an artifact called the Coin of Time.
It fell to him from Hermes’s spleen while to some tryst
he hastened. Formed from vapoured metals well refined,
the coin three faces held, and spun, could prophecy
the present, past, and future, any fact supply—
and more than this, could twist events to suit your need.
From far and wide, the people came, their fates to read.
The coin’s new master warned his guests before he spun:
there is no time but now, and all you think has gone
is yet to come. Yes, yes, they’d hurry him along.
Just tell me how my battles lost can now be won,
and if I am to die disgraced, may Time see fit
to overturn and fix so that I’m loved a bit.
The first to visit was a countess whose husband
had indebted them through bets poor placed and their good
name ill-weighted through duels fought across the land.
Orphans and mad widows shame me, alchemist. Could
your coin of time display some better outcome for
my family than gallows and squalor? The poor
woman sat rod-straight and prim, while her host
the coin did spin. Three faces flat caved in, almost
collapsed and pulled with them three winds that shook the beads
across her breast. Her brow took on a fevered sweat;
the coin whirred on, became invisible. You’ll get
your answer soon, the seer said. The unseen leads
what was, it will be then. I’ll take my payments spread.
And while Time spun, he took the lady to his bed.
The coin lay spent upon the table, pools of damp
across the wood where faces two had vapourized
to hold up the third, a smug and frightful grin, stamped
across its visage. The alchemist, unsurprised,
remarked: Your haughty blood runs deep, Madame, an urge
to conquer bleeds unstanched. What lies ahead will purge
as it has always done. Your sons will follow in
their father’s void; your daughters’ marriages will win
scant happiness, though scandal will assure their names
are spoke in every parlour from Kiev to Vlad-
ivostok. Shocked, the countess thought, surely to God
this alchemist is Devil-sent. He dares defame
my family thus. The coin is false. She swept it from
the table while her firstborn oiled his duelling gun.
This suite of poems is a nod toward the Pushkin sonnet, developed by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) through his masterpiece narrative poem, “Eugene Onegin”. The official rhyme scheme is AbAbCCddEffEgg, the upper case signifying feminine words, lower case, masculine. Gender assignments refer to syllable stress, easy enough to research if you want to know more. Most of the lines fall into the pattern of iambic hexameter, which is a fun and roomy stretch. Personally I find that excessive attention to feet and form leads to poetic academiosis, wherein oxygen levels in the brain drop and the spirit of a poem flees with the nearest rock musician. So my rhyme scheme for “The Coin of Time” is, equitably, ababccddeffegg.
© Elaine Stirling, 2014