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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!