The Fourth King
Convinced they said January
There I stood in Damascus Central
fur-coated, cigar in mouth,
one silent servant either side.
My vast sandalwood leather-strapped trunks
crammed with enough curios
to start a car-boot sale
in the Bethlehem suburbs.
No sign of them.
Thought they must be on the train already.
a train in the days
when our boys knew how to make them:
mahogany, silver, brass, silk, cotton, porters.
Grilled fish for breakfast
peacock breast paté served in the evening.
Strolled from one end to the other
in clouds of Havanna
peering in every carriage
except where the blinds drawn down
made enquiry verboten
to anyone but a uniformed Venus.
Ribbons and stays
cognac and lipstick
endearments breathed in steam hieroglyphics
on the dark glass pane.
Sat in the dining compartment
searching in vain for my three friends' faces.
Stare through a speeding window.
See the nova
up there in the dark
bright as a nuclear conflagration.
Found a poker game
where I lost enough
for five poor men of my kingdom
to live out five lifetimes
without one smudge of dirt on their fingers.
On the second night
a certain countess from the Steppes
smiled a smile
my royal heart's accustomed to.
Her couchette smelt of eau-de-cologne
a thousand nights exactly like this one.
Expert she was
treating each caress as the first.
Her sighs primeval.
Needed gold as all Russian countesses do.
Then in the hours left over
before the village revelations
I read frantically
through my sacred books:
the predicted death of empires
prefigured in the sky at midnight once
Arrived at the promised platform in Bethlehem
the day my companions were leaving
noting in their faces
an absence of the usual kingly fraughtness
that palace calendar ticking protocols behind our eyes.
Radiance or vacancy? I couldn't say.
Thought I'd travel to Jerusalem
stay for a while
at the King David Hotel.
My Russian countess
joined me for the weekend.
A raven-headed fiddler
played 'Dark Eyes' at our table in the evening.
didn't convince me
torn as they were
between Torah and tequila.
In the distance somewhere
occasional explosions followed by sirens.
Back finally to this palace
high on its hill
above my mighty rivers.
Creatures scurry over marble floors
lives bent solely to please and entice me.
Bowing so deep their spines
describe crescents in livery.
Papers signed with a yawn:
one life to be granted before noon
another forfeited come evening.
My vizier's metal nose
shines candlelight flares
Trees vomit greenness
over of my lawns.
Flowers whisper in darkness
plotting one more aphrodisiac spring.
Rumours from time to time
of the scattered trinity: Melchior, Balthazar
...the other whose name I've now forgotten...
revising credos, refurbishing basilicas
smashing old stone gods
from sunlight to dust and rubble.
(For myself I have outlawed
zealotry and iconoclasm
in my termperate territories)
I could have added one more red letter
to my liturgy
one more rubric
this time in Greek and named
so they say
I take comfort.
Despite the portent
(a galaxy swallowed in flame
to make one single announcement —
a serious splash in the red-tops these days)
they got the wrong man.
What kind of god
dies crying nailed to a piece of rough wood
Roman soldiers laughing all round him
as the Easter weather finally breaks?