Monday, October 24, 2011


(First published April 17, 2009)

Far, far, far to the east the conquerer wanders
For 13 years, forsaking home and family,
East of Delphi, east of Eden, even east of Nod.
High, high into the heavens they follow him,
clambering over the ancient Pāriyatra Parvat,
Just below God's throne.

And then across the desert at the top
Of the world, his dusty fighters dying of thirst,
Neither wishing to stop, nor willing to go on,
Until at last that fabled stream, the Oxus
Reaches out to them, renews them, and
So they cross over, into the enchanted place --
Bactriana beyond the Kush.

Drunkenly veering, slashing and cutting
A crimson eastward-trending gash across the land,
Living on blood, hung over at the van of a screeching mob
Of dusty savages in rusty breastplates,
Neither aware of his crimes nor knowing why
he does them, leaving a harem of sore-butt boys
in his train, now the conqueror pauses at last.

Bactriana! land of strange and hairy beasts,
And well-horsed warriors who fly like wind
On their shaggy ponies, but who stood like stones,
locked up with fear when Iskander's name comes to their ears.
But he, knowing that his numbers are reduced,
And never by careless arrogance seduced,
Looks round for sheltering walls.

A local baron with a marriageable daughter
Prudently offers the conqueror shelter, rest and water.
Barely sixteen, but spurred by ambition and her only chance,
This embryonic Queen of the World adorns herself to dance.
And there at the roof of the world, stars fell in showers of gold,
The night Roxanne of Bactria danced for the conqueror of old.

Northern Indian miniature: "Roxanne and Alexander." Click on image for a larger view.


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