The Botereid

Monday, October 11, 2004

Bactria

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
     -Wallace Stevens


In Mazar-e-Sharif, the thin, white
Beards bow at the Blue Mosque, the tomb
Of Islam’s fourth caliph, Mohammed’s son:
Hazrat Ali. To the north of the city
Is Balkh, birthplace of Zoroaster, now
Home to the battle between scrubs and dust.

Yes, in Balkh there is still dust
At war, there stand white
Corinthian columns even now,
Still there is a mountain, a tomb
Called Qala Iskanderiya, the City
Of Alexander, Macedonia’s son.

Four dreadful years it took this son
To grasp this land, to shake this dust
That shakes today around the city,
Brother of golden Babylon and white
Nineveh, where each stone is a tomb
Marker, the silence that follows now.

Not even are there echoes now
From the steppes, from the Mongol son
Who also took the land and left tombs
Among the storm still flickering in dust.
But the people fled into the white
Mountains then, and carried their city.

And not too far from there, the city
Is spread. Still, it grows, and now
Blonde children, freckled, white,
Herd sickly goats. Alexander’s sons
Are as native to the mountains as dust.
In their tongue runs the Macedonian tomb.

Today, in Balkh there is not a tomb
That hasn’t run dry. The city
Houses quiet hawkers and clean dust.
All peoples are heroes. And now
Is just another past. History’s son
Has the dusky shade of bone, not white.

The white land itself is a tomb,
And neither the son, nor the city,
Rises now. All in all is dust.


BACKGROUND: I wrote this off the Alexander in Afghanistan business I posted on a few days ago. It's a sestina for a verse class I'm taking with J.D. McClatchy. Personally, I think it's fairly horrendous, but I wrote it in a about an hour with no revision, so I can't hope for any more than that. Of course, everyone in the class, including McClatchy, thought it was my best poem so far. Hmm...C'est la poésie, I suppose. Or it could just mean that I have no idea how bad my other poems have been.

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