Saturday, July 11, 2009

Evocations of Phoenicia


And I was among them at the oar benches
in springtime after the Feast of Melqart –
many score on nine merchant galleys,
Hiram's own, laden with longwood:
cypress and Lebanon cedar bound to Egypt
in shrewd trade for papyrus and strong rope,
rare spices and the skins of leopards,
gold, carbuncles, and chalcedony.

Sea lust urged us to the stroke beat
on that calm morning of departure.

How can I describe such a sunrise?...
that broad palm of white-gold light
saluting our steady pull southward.


Asherah! Mother of heaven…

We have portioned the heady wine
for the sake of Asherah.
And burned this dolphin flesh
to honor the Consort of El!

O, Deliveress!...
linger in the bedchamber of El.
Turn away the eye of the Storm-Lord.
Beguile to slumber his wrathful surge
of black seas and bold thunder.
Mistress of El – hear our petition!

O, Protectress!...
be near in the vulnerable hours
of slack sail in strange waters.
Hold high the guardian sword
should one head of Leviathan appear.


The bracing wind after oar sweat!
The lift of prow over sea swell!
The sight of purple unfurling!
The bronze laugh of our captain!

I have seen the doves of Byblus
daring the drafts over Nahr Ibrahim…
but we are brothers of the eagle
whose flight is beyond all others!

We soar with a straining square sail,
with two men at the bucking stern.
Their torsos twist, working the longblades
to keep the rocks a mile to port.
Jether and Zophah have limbs like sycamores.

Who else knows of these things?
Who else would throw their cares to the wind?
Do lovers of land think they will live forever?

No words are worthy to tell them of hull splash,
Salt spray, and the pure joy of speed!
One must live through the experience.
Running, there is only the moment,
and that moment is our meaning.


Our galley creaks in the gentle night
as I drift into memory's dream.

Spring buds appearing…

and I among hundreds at Sidon gate,
assembled at sunset, awaiting the torch;
we'll climb the ancient limestone path
that runs amid the sacred oaks.
Soon the veined white temple
by the bleeding brook where a boar slew Baal.
We walk in file, some with lambs –
firstborn gifts for the embered pyre.
Others clutch leather pouches
of harvest seed to mix with blood
to fling into the altared night
to bribe the favored gods.

Revelries commencing…

of zither songs round spitted beeves,
of lithe dancers, giddy with mandrake,
of echoing vows to the lusty gods.
That priestess!...fragrant as narcissus!
We are face to face by lamplight
in the temple of Astarte's beds.
She is naked, and I am speechless.
And there are diamonds in her raven hair.


Shell horns call from galley to galley
As herald colors of dawn light appear.

I sit on the lion-headed prow,
watching albatrosses in the breaker mist.

Soon, each crow's nest will hold a yawning man.
Soon, we will hunt the horses of the sea.
Soon, we will feel the breath of Asherah –

sails full-blown by warm wind toward Egypt.

1 comment:

  1. Once upon a time. Odysseus, with a bit of a different twist. I wonder--about the priestess, and her fate in this epic. Yes, I think I need a shaken, not stirred martini with a ironic olive in it.