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There being neither bangled dancers
swirling cloth-of-gold and green
nor golden peacocks set in trees
above the marble garden ponds,
we are assured we are no king.

O, but were I king I would command
my flautists out upon the porch
and golden bowls of tamarinds
and pomegranate seeds in ice
set down within my reach.

Or I would welcome envoys from the east
with feasting and a holiday,
rise to declare our love for peace
and whisper orders to proceed.
It’s well I do not rule this place

for I would teach the crowded lands
that peace is war in shepherd’s dress.
And I would lead great armies south,
and at the Ganges cry aloud
for other worlds that I might win.

How many died that day in Itaban?
I can’t remember but my sword
was black with blood and we won through.
I saw a jackal gnaw a hand
and ordered all the bodies burned.

Now I grow cold and get no heat
from charcoal fires in the spring.
What did it gain? My son is dead,
and men put paper in between
my word and deed, and speak of laws,

and I’m an old and heirless king.
I see them smile and look away.
I’ll teach them that the old hand still-
I’ll summon guards-Antíloches-
no, he’s dead these ten years gone;

I do not know if guards will come.
Let Strake and Tolma make their plans
to take this kingdom when I’m done.
It is enough their fathers stood
beside me while we battled worlds.

I wonder if their ghosts still laugh
at how we broke the Hittites like a dam
and poured our armies on the east.
From the porch, the ivory flutes
ring echoes in the colonnades;

a golden bird’s gold feathers trail
down to touch the marble pond.
It’s good to sit here and recall,
an old king resting in the sun,
though all the swirling dancers know
we are no king at all.