by MIchael Shorb

This sand and thistle
wilderness once held
gardens where we greeted
fighting Cambyses home
from Egyptian conquest
with slaves, ivory, gold,
a stable of captured gods.

We feasted, glittering
                      dancers whirled
Priests of Ahura Mazda
filled our cups
with liquid glory.

Waking, we find the city under siege.
Macedonian javelins raining down,
runners bawling out the dread
from Granicus. There's a new god now,
Aristotle's prize student,
                                        Alexander Mastodon
a phalanx of bloody
dust spilling into Asia
Egypt India
           like a plague.

Our survey indicates a finite
number of horsehide insect whisks
Nubian slaves loading bales
                           of colored cotton
tusks, spices, pottery
precious stones and bulging
granaries, newly-erected temples.

Then it darkens
                armies roll,
locusts drizzle through
river orchards, illuminated
manuscripts go for fish wrap.

Each human's got a part to play.

I was the grinning wanderer who
played the flute or juggled
green bottles in torchlit courtyards,
I was the plain man with
                        the shriveled belly,
a bricklayer, a sail maker,
the man who buried fallen legions
with balm and special markings
                              coins lidding the eyes.

This process, profit and loss,
began with dried
                fish and carved elk horn,
flints and surgery exchanged for
water in summer
              salt in winter.

Who knows if anything ever dies?

Fall off a Turkish siege ladder at
Constantinople into a dark vortex
of smoking emptiness
                    and points
of echoing fire,
see what happens then.

                      A last memory
will be the full yellow moon
a woman's touch
the smile of a friend.

                      Maybe that says it.

The ideas we know about.
They're always around
shuffled from fleet to caravan
maybe getting less attention by now
being laughed at, ridiculed,
abused in the marketplace.

I won't make a big deal of this.
You simply make less impression
each time you exist.
                     Begin as a god
deep in the velvet
                   myths of Persia if you must,
you'll end up propping
open a temple door
                  in the seedy part of town,
naming a rotary engine
automobile by the time
the 20th Century rolls.

An excellent system
come to think of it.
Natural selection
                 among archetypes.
Each vehicle becoming its own
                              model of the universe
complete with ritualized
            customized concepts
of duty and freedom.

Me, I love my new
Olympus XL Grand Operatic
camper with dashboard pantheon
sacred bough orphic stereo tape deck
barbed wire doors
                 supply of food, fuel and liquor
ensuring our survival, yours
in the abstract sense
                                 mine in the concrete sense.

In this vehicle there is nothing to fear.
One recent evening I ploughed through
a mob of irate campesinos
while turning west toward
dusk on the Trans-Amazon Highway.

In my spotlights they scattered
                                        buzzing and bristling
in the manner
                   of the starving
gnashing their teeth
as the weight of my place
in this night--
               the only man for miles around
with liquor and food,
dawned on them.

Driving on, I caught a glimpse
of a Roman legion lost in
the Sahara of my rear view mirror,
or extinct deer grazing
                                   in a dammed-up canyon.

Now is the perfect time.
my god and I light up a
Cuban cigar, open a bottle of
'46 Bordeaux, the magic radio
comes on with mankind's
greatest hits:
              Roland's horn, Oppenheimer's
mushrooming parody of Mozart's
magic flute caress the steaming,
bird-infested darkness.

Now you will hear a music
that does not dream
of what is past or passing
or to come.
Roll up the window
to block out the annoying
vegetable tides.


2 thoughts on “AHURA MAZDA

  1. A towering poem with cross-cultural references and switchbacks in time giving withering perspective on what it means to be at civilization’s top–self-centered, inhumane, unconcerned, ultimately a travesty–when “a last memory will be the full yellow moon(,)a woman’s touch(,)the smile of a friend.” The ending is wonderful, possibly redemptive. Who wouldn’t wish to have written this?

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