B. R. Dionysius directed the Queensland Poetry Festival from 1997-2001
and is currently editor of papertiger: new world poetry #05. In 1998 he was
awarded the Harri Jones Memorial Prize for Poetry by the University of
Newcastle. He has co-authored one artists' book, The Barflies' Chorus
(Lyre Bird Press, 1995) and two solo collections of poetry, Fatherlands
(Five Islands Press, 2000) and Bacchanalia (Interactive Press, 2002). He
was short-listed in the 2002 Mary Gilmore Poetry Prize for Fatherlands.
He lives in Brisbane, Australia.
Ali flicks his cigarette ash out
the car window & points at the last
Hittite King, buried under an anthill
the size of the Sydney Opera House.
Near Avanos, (Ali's home town) the petal
-thin stratum of Rose Valley liquefies.
As they pass brick & clay water shrines,
the kite-black heat claws at their Eyes
(Western, demonic blue) & summons a djinn
of sweat to suckle at Baldwin's breast.
The wind carves a Neapolitan immortality;
wards off an impure, cold-rock civilization
with ice in its veins.
"We lost so many words when Attaturk sprung
his language junta & forced the Latin alphabet onto us",
coos Ali, his soft voice straining above
the six cylinder's abstract hiss.
"Kapadoyka was never defeated—
not even by the Romans", he adds
as the ink-dipped ears of a desert fox
pick out the three individual blips
on its air to ground-radar.
They're surprised too, when an owl
of Artemis alights on a cairn
of lichen-buttered stones & stares
at them in full daylight. Later,
mute stars reverse clumsily out
of night's garage & a scimitar
of moon hangnails over the dried,
nectarine skin of volcanic mesas,
straight out of Spielberg's
Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The Kapadoykian salmon landscape
opens up; the tiny bird bones
of 'otherness' they fear to choke
on pushed to side of their
No one wears seatbelts on this trip.
Ali Karatas, Baldwin & Roxanne's
ancient historian cum kilim seller
six months of the year
(his family ensconced in Paris),
fluent in six languages
shakes his black mane in disbelief,
as they fish-tail into Haci Bektas
at 40mph & attempt to lock
the doors of his car.
"The West sounds like a prison",
he philosophises, offering Baldwin
a 16mg hit of cigarette.
Inside the tomb of Haci Bektas Vely,
(Rumi's teacher) they kiss cool mint
marble doorframes, the silk draped
sarcophagi of Caliphs, Vely's twelve
Babas & whirling dervishes; then crawl
on their hands & knees, hold babies
aloft to the marble coffin & let peace
flush out their hearts like the sacred spring
of Caliph Ali (Mohamed's son in law)
as they wait their turn & drink from
the metal cupped mouth of Aslan.
Roxanne rubs the centuries smoothed
limb of a holy tree & weeps,
for they, in the company
of the last of the Hittite King
have laid down this day beside
the Lion of God & lived.
W.H. Auden, The Shield of Achilles
Baldwin marks the X spot
with the heel of his blundstone
where Alexander the Great finally
halted by the River Beas, Himachal Pradesh;
a golf divot of stories leaches to the surface
of Lord Shiva's rugged country club.
Alexander, ground to a halt by Rajahs,
mountain tribesmen, old wounds, homesick
Macedonians, Indian elephants—the Missile
Defence Shield of the ancient world.
His insatiable competitiveness to reach the end
of the earth & the Eastern Sea doused by too
many rivers, monsoons, flash floods, an army
of 4000 tuskers always around the corner.
"This is where the Hellenic dream ended, Rox. Right here.
Alexander's men refused to go any further.
If only they had known how meagre the opposition
was on the other side—he would have conquered all of India too."
"Then what would he have done Baldwin? Conquered China?
Arabia? South America? How many more people would he have
butchered, if he had lived longer? Half a million?
One million, two million?"
"He chose Achilles' fate then, I guess didn't he? A short life
& fame. He was my age when he died—Thirty-two."
"Baldwin, you're going to have to stop comparing yourself to HIM
all the time! Alexander was a short, murderous, brilliant psychopath
who slaughtered non-stop for thirteen years. There's nothing romantic
about that. Nothing romantic at all about the terrible destruction
he committed, the men he killed, the countless women & children
he enslaved, all in the name of Hellenisation!"
"But Rox, he was a great man. A thinker, tutored by Aristotle.
He explored the world as much as he conquered it!"
"Honey, I love you, but you've developed a simplistic masculine
relationship with history.with the world. There's nothing glorious
about an early death. Hardly any of us will ever be remembered
after we die—by anyone! Achilles, Hector, Alexander.
Their names survive to this day because they killed
a lot of people! They fit a masculine heroic myth
that is constantly perpetuated by the media.
Who do you think will be the most remembered person
of the 20th century?"
"Um.probably Adolf Hitler."
"Exactly, a butcher, not a painter, not a poet, not a scientist,
but a plain, ordinary mass murderer!"
"Geez, Rox, what's got into you today? You still feeling sick?"
"No Baldwin, I've just had it.
I've fucking had it. With travelling. With India.
People should come here to get a perspective on how fucked up
the world really is! Anyhow, we're out of India in three days."
"I know, Rox, I know. I've had it too! I can't wait to get back
home either! All of our problems are completely insignificant
compared to what we've seen overseas. Piddly. Hey, do you
think we should sponsor a kid through World Vision
when we get back home?"
"Yeah. sure Son of Zeus-Ammon, when we get home
we can think about it then, when we get back home."
Recovering from the Alhambra's
transubstantiation of numbers & history,
Baldwin & Rox are surprised by two
old Gypsy women; forest dryads that
appear from nowhere, tracing fingers
over Rox's stomach, gestimating the futures
of our cunning heroes Dear Reader.
"What did they say to you Rox?" asks Baldwin,
grabbing his wife's azure nail-polished hands.
"Oh you know the usual.that I'll have three
to four bambinos with a fair handsome stranger!"
"Why, what did she tell you, Son of Zeus-Ammon?"
"Just exactly that Rox. That if I go to India
like Alexander the Great did, then I'd end up
having his short life too."
"But Jesus Baldwin.we are going to India.
how did she know? Did you tell her about it?"
"No I didn't Rox.that's what's fucking
freaking me out!"
Our two heroes about face to get some
more information from the weird sisters,
but they've melted, wicked witch style
into the water fountains, twigs of lavender
& crushed afternoon memories.
Samos Ferry: A Comparative
The Turkish teenage boy—
Mustafa Kemal's figurehead for a western future,
leans out over Kusadasi's rubber-barnacled jetty,
blesses three huge bass with a rosary of sardine
baited hooks. Baldwin can find nothing particularly
Hemingway about this scene (no 'The Old Man
of the Sea' fingers cut to shreds hangin' on for dear life),
though there is blood—a doctor's pinprick from
the hook of a previous haul's last rites, consecrated
on Poseidon's concrete & tire altar.
Hooks a big one this boy, draws it to the surface,
arrow straight with delicate curette fingers—
but the line snaps, the last breath of a bowstring
failing its Cretan master. The boy flaps madly
about (Gollum, Gollum!) for a few seconds & chokes
on the fine asbestos dust of luck's decaying
superstructure. Spying Baldwin & Roxanne astride
their backpacks the fisher boy spreads his hands
wide as Heracle's Gate. The proportions of failure
universal in everyone's body language;
the hydra that got away now ultra-hip
with its new pierced lower lip.
Ionia, dissects the cultural slips
cordon of our two intrepid travellers
Dear Reader, as the Samos ferry cuts
air with diesel. Eros (ala John Travolta
in Urban Cowboy) waves goodbye from
the saddle of his bronzed, bronco
dolphin under glass in the Ephesus
As Baldwin & Roxanne fade out,
backpacks weighed down with stolen
pottery, the boy rejoins his brother
Argonauts on a docked trawler,
goes back to hunting for Proteus
as Turkei's future shape-shifts
at the end of the 20th century.
A breaking of surface tension
the only mythology here.
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