Down in history

Noon heat is rising fast

outside the walls of Troy

and there’s quiet in the fields

a silence understandable for men

who witnessed the bad omen;

but what of the birds, the tireless

cicadas on the cypress trees,

the crickets on the grass, the locusts?

.

Many witnessed the event

–a lonely crow flying inland

just at the break of first light

carrying a living fish gripped in its beak,

dropping it at the main gate

where it squirmed once, twice and then died.

And still there’s quiet in the fields

–rumours are only whispered.

.

More comes during the day:

dead sheep and stilborn babies,

old springs that spewed forth blood

and trusted wells gone dry.

People now wait for their priests

because they dread Cassandra

might tell them without refrain

they’re going down in history.

.

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The man of Chaeronea

Under the uneasy light of oil-lamps you take cover while you draw undying characters in ancient glyphs, and when come morning in the main square you hear the gossip about those you know so much about, and those you yet do not.

It’s such a small place, Chaeronea, and you have been around a lot, learning to listen, think and hold your tongue and now to keep opinions to your glyphs, careful so you don’t tread on people’s fantasies, but most of all you don’t offend their gods.

There’s some commotion lately, much talk among the savvy about some news that reached their ears of a philosopher around some province in the east, a teacher, prophet, some say god, who promised life ever after.

He had defeated death, the rumours went, and afterwards stood and walked like Romulus amongst the living, offering consolation and assurance. “A Hebrew escaping Hades like Sisyphus? What does the oracle have to say?”

You have so many rituals to observe, so many ceremonies and social demands you barely have time for those you’ve learned details and facts, let alone lives of persons people dream and have them feed on their illusions.

Then comes this man from far away –a Greek from Antiochia who now lived in Troas, dressed in pure white and well to do, calm mannered and soft-spoken, staying for a day on his way to Corinth– and naturally finds in your house shelter.

His bones are old but his eyes shine; and he’s much learned –a doctor. You both sit next to the fire at night, drinking some properly watered-down wine, starting to talk about this and that but soon find yourselves talking about the divine.

He talks of life immaculate of a man, son and creator of the heavens, a god, the only god no less –born of a virgin, living for the lowly, dying for us all, then raising triumphant from the dead– the brightest beacon to the clearest path to follow.

You start by drawing parallels at first –Dionysus, Mithras, Osiris, what have you– but soon you’d rather listen to the stories of miracles and parables and teachings; and when he puts man in the centre of divine love you really don’t know what to say.

You like the man and it’s been years since you have heard a juicy story. He’s also inerested in you and all you’ve got to say this night –the shortest of your nights– but just one night is not enough for friendship such as this, so you make vows to meet again.

He stays again on his return, then comes again in winter; but he feels poorly and he’s tired and sad, for murder is afoot and persecution. No need to ask Apollo for advise; you gladly take the man under your wing.

There’s this estate your father owned in Thebes, a lovely place up on a hill –a house, few servants, olive and fig and cypress trees– with good air and safe, for this town is already full with history of its own: the last place where the gods dined along with mortals.

It’s there you forge a friendship so profound –strolling the vineyards and eating fruit and fish, debating, confessing, reminiscing; in-between Plato and Zeno finding understanding– until one day he says he’ll soon be gone and has a last, but very important, favour to ask.

Under the uneasy light of oil-lamps you try to keep a steady hand when drafting the stories that your clandestine friend has told you –his acts and testament of faith to his god– giving them voice in a language for all, without comfort of a cover –Apollo will be watching.

You hand the manuscripts to your friend and they’re received like god’s own blessing. “That will be all they’ll ever know of me”, he says, kissing your forhead. “I wrote them true and they are yours”, you say, “but never tell who wrote your stories”.

You sit now dressed in the consul’s robe –so much respected, so much older– and look at the hands that wrote stories of lives, myths and philosophies and ethics, but all you feel is that last touch of hands with your beloved friend before he died.

(Completed 28/01/10. Please check the comments section for context and relevant links)

The whisperers

It is a sickness, they say;

a troubled mind with too much information;

something gone wrong with some lobe

and manufactures whispers.

.

So I pretend I cannot hear

the voices that come, the whisperers

of fancy tales and half-baked facts

and some undoubted truths.

.

How can I tell them, pray inform,

that Socrates regretted dying for these donkeys

and Plato found that he was wrong

only he found out too late.

.

And they would laugh, would they not,

had I relayed how Aristotle

studied the sea on Lesvos isle because

all he wanted was to paint.

.

Maybe I could just tell them this:

Hippocrates is really mad about your take on the oath

and Pythagoras laughs aloud while he cools

his feet in transient waters.

.

They’ll keep me here, I think;

another victim of those voices long gone;

a perfect medium for those whispering,

chained on a metal bed.

Travel Instructions

This dream you had of a young man

who earnestly told you to escape

the numbing shade of fruitless trees

has set you on the road again.

.

Whatever road you may take

life will always be the longest

so, always take the longest route

and choose the slowest transport.

.

Treat fear as a close ally

or else he’ll be your master;

when he says no then you must try

and when in doubt consult him.

.

To better know where you’ve been

drop burning tears on your trail

learning to abandon to regain

then find another path for your return.

.

Surrender space but defend

always defend your footprint.

To heal, go to places you know;

to know, find the place where you can heal.

.

Stay if you should but never settle

for now the road is your home.

Keep very few things but keep them close

closer of all that shiny coin for the ferryman.

.

Think as you must, act as you go

never forget your questions

but fear the lack of answers not

your body knows what you don’t.

.

Take on that road going outward

as what it is: an inward journey;

it takes a hundred thousand miles

to barely have moved an inch.

Hypatia of Alexandria

Whisper to me, my poet; confide in me from the beyond and tell me you walked the streets where she walked, the squares where she stood, maybe you entered a salon where she used to entertain.

Tell me, my poet, of her teachings on the afterlife as found in Plato or Plotinus. Tell me of her discussions with her father, her thoughts on her mother, her first true love, if there were one other than Sophia.

I could ask her myself, you know, as I do now with you, but I’m too shy. I talk to you in verse and metaphor and know you understand, but how could I talk to her? How could I ever even form a question that would match her brilliant intellect? I can’t; they couldn’t –those that used the cross as a dagger, their faith as an excuse, their prophet’s teaching of love as the sharpest of weapons: hate. Such hate for those who think; such hate for those who think before they follow; such hate for those who follow but still think.

Speak to me, my poet. Tell me, what were the likes of Theophilus and Cyril in your days? Did they still want to burn the Jew, the deviant, the heathen? Were they in your times still nurturing the hatred? Were there others caring only for their own like Gamaliel? Have you seen Pontius Pilate incarnate again after he left Orestes’ body? I know, I know, there is no shortage of fork-tongued hypocrites, or plain hypocrites, fullstop.

You spoke to me, my poet! You said at fault is neither the teaching nor the teacher. You said man’s mind is at fault, and I should take it easy. We still remember Hypatia, don’t we? And in her grace the names of those less than she in memory remain.

.

Notes

Hypatia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_of_Alexandria

The Poet (Constantine P. Cavafy): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_P._Cavafy

Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Theophilus_of_Alexandria

Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_of_Alexandria

Jewish patriarch Gamaliel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamaliel_VI

Orestes, Prefect of Alexandria: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orestes_(prefect)

Love is all seasons

Blinding smiles and festive lights

taut bodies strings of bass

legs drumming long into the rhythm;

spirits who no more whisper than they shout

the shameless peacocking of our surface

is how we start our seasons.

.

Hedonism measured in decamerons

as innocent as Alkyonides’ passing through

the most horrible final gasps of winter;

hybernating till resurrection

dealing with the us the we the I

is how we prepare for spring.

.

Colours revolt when buds explode

in Persephone’s gentle wake

and identity becomes a crucial matter;

surrendering choice to the insects

and laying numb under the shade

is how we enter summer.

.

Scorched by the sun the colours fade

and Persephone must be called Demeter.

Gather the crop, collect the fruit

dream versus reality must now reach a verdict;

sun–dazed no more, shadows drawn long

is how we start our autumn.

.

Sun-dried skins and wrinkled fruit

memory jars lined tightly on shelves

and bodies wrapped in blankets

of hopes like seed pressed deep into the earth

connecting life with dreams again

is how we reach our winter.

.

Then blinding smiles and festive lights

is how we start our seasons.

.

Sorry ending for life’s dubious heroes

Lost in a razorflinging wilderness

and in ambition’s networked crossroads

velocities unmeasured for the ever quick

to grasp subseconds of a sparkle

and swim in only warm parts of the lake

–it wasn’t heartattack that killed him

it was heartache.

.

Arriving there before the fact

in sentiments logically squared

with rights of birth and plights of class

his words weighing heavy on ears untrained

promising Rome and hoping for a lucky break

–it wasn’t heartattack that killed him

it was heartache.

.

Many fierce battles won or lost

but fleeing had never felt so heavy;

stealthy weapons hiding on unwalked terrain

and thoughts as dim as paralysed arrows

left him no other course to take

–it wasn’t heartattack that killed him

it was heartache.

.

Notes:

For Marcus Aemilius Lepidus who, after an unsuccessful campaign to grab the power in Rome, fled to Sardinia where, according to Plutarch, he died not from the hardships of war or the shame of defeat, but because he learnt his wife was unfaithful.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Aemilius_Lepidus_(120-77_BC)

From Plutarch’s text:

“As for Lepidus, moreover, as soon as he was expelled from Italy, he made his way over to Sardinia. There he fell sick and died of despondency, which was due, as we are told, not to the loss of his cause, but to his coming accidentally upon a writing from which he discovered that his wife was an adulteress.”

Plutarch, Pompey, 16.6

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Lives/Pompey*.html