India Radfar

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

not known.  


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

cared not.


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?