Five opening poems, with foreword, from a booklength poem called 'Far'
The Minoan civilization of Crete had the written languages Linear A and Linear B, both of which are predecessors of the Greek language. Discovered one hundred years ago in Phaistos, Crete, and dated at approximately 1700 BC, in the Middle Minoan period, the Phaistos disk is neither Linear A nor Linear B and continues to defy translation. It is a quarter-inch thick disk of fired clay, sixteen inches in diameter. On each side of the disk are spiraling lines of symbols seemingly pressed into the clay by gold stamps because the lines are so sharp, the images so clear. There are forty-five stamps that repeat and combine in different ways to make 242 symbols in all. It has been declared untranslatable by the community of scholars, even though most of the symbols are recognizable to us in images of plants, animals, humans, tools, and weapons. However, there are many existing translations of the disk that fall into the realm of pseudo-archaeology. I see this proliferation of odd texts as a huge body of deterministic writings based on the disk, which does have an unmistakable and tempting visual readability. I chose to add to this body of work myself, and in so doing, I experienced how powerful a rubric for generating poetry the disk can be.
I shall build a boat
I shall launch it
I shall go far from this strange
— Sohrab Sepehri
We Need a Fresh Start
What I thought was the end is in fact the beginning
and I find myself here, as it were, at the beginning
to tell a story I don’t know about an island
and its people and the sea
We are edged by sea, or do we journey down a wide river?
We begin by stepping over
we take the passage to I don’t know where
if you want to tell this story,
tell it this way. Oh, and
one more thing: you can’t
know this story
because of the migration of tuna
because of the lowered sea levels at that time
But go this direction anyway
take this path of water away from yourself
people of water next to water
both at peril and saved by water
find a path in the water and take it until
you can’t go any further
our water our way of life
our life itself and us inside that life
The story begins in departures,
our departure towards you and
your departure towards us.
The Promotion of Life
Now come the boats. With water always
come boats and a destination
although sometimes the destination
remains unknown at the beginning
These boats will tell us
if they sail down a river or
across the open sea.
I must read deeper, past the thing that
looks like a scarab and past the thing that looks
like the head of a lamb, past whether it’s the water
of the sea or the water of a river
The story continues in boats, on the sea, the sea of seas
And what I don’t say you must feel and hear,
you must already know.
This boat holds just a few and can’t
go far across the sea. Perhaps. And yet there
does seem to be movement in this story, whether
it is the movement of one or two, or the
movement of an entire people. Is this ship that kind of ship?
We sailed our boats, and why not?
we are seafaring people, we trade
we are not entirely self-contained on this island
Our scarab looks nothing like the scarab of the Egyptians
what do we know of scarabs?
can we stop this talk of scarabs
There is one large river known to all
is that what you sail?
Some Kind of Anthropomorphic Presence
We made this to fit in two hands
we made this small enough to carry away
like a book but we didn’t know you would
find it and try to read it.
We didn’t make this for the halls of your museums
we didn’t make this to sit untouched for 4,000 years
We made you smaller than small
your wavy hair and bare breasts
are you pleased? Do you want us to
go to the Egyptians? Are we Egyptians
or are we Greeks speaking of Egyptians?
Are we under the guidance of an
Egyptian goddess who allows us to prosper
or do we have a king and warriors among us
who keep the peace with the Egyptians?
We will go in peace, I assured him. The
official heard me and saw my company
if there are any who admit that they
can’t be ruled, find them for me and
I will rule them with the breath and smell
of water not conquest
we will move towards symbiosis
a grove of olive trees
in a distant colony
Invocation by Tortoiseshell Lyre
I have made the acquaintance and started my journey
in many ways I have started, and what can I tell you?
what do we ever tell each other about what is
So, we were to find a people of self-rule
and convince them that they needed a ruler
but not as conquest
find the children for our father king
find the forgotten, find the struggling
for him to save
He approved of us and gave us weapons
for our protection
On this island we have men trained in the
art of archery. We have herds of livestock
sheep, goats, pigs, cattle
and we have songs
We took the ram and the harp so we could
both feast and be entertained
Here’s the program: we are
going through a story that stays
unknown. Our plot changes
and changes and changes until it has
no direction but we still follow it
if you don’t understand
it is out of laziness. Our minds
are confused by the spiral but the spiral
is to be loved. The spiral says forget
linearity. The spiral says jump in
the spiral says follow me from one hand
to the other. Follow the spiral on its
path around itself. All you have to do is follow.
So I follow your direction through the text
the eye of the room, the sound of the harp
keep playing the magic
and us, crossing, us.
Reverence With a Saluting Gesture
And with our left foot we stepped on board
and with our right foot we betrayed our
families, following the order of the king who
He told us to go but to return in time
because where we rest we have already
been. In some sense we keep coming back
my words can only begin to illustrate this
change and this sameness of all people
and things. How many ways are there to
tell you. I will keep trying. Over time
you will know.
We are an island caught between many
worlds of influence, and it has always
been a precarious balance, so we were ready
to untether our boats and leave our island
for an unknown destination. And we held
out our hand to the future and with that same
hand we said our farewell.
The need for sun, rain, food, offspring and
the prevention of death made us go
like a tethered lamb we felt
under this divinity
either protected or sacrificed
who could say?