Amytis of Media: Her Telling of the Days of Nebuchadnezzar’s Exile

1 March 2017

White stars stud the indigo
like the dowry on my veil
when my father sent me from Media

to sign a pact with Babylon.
Neb has been wandering for seven years.
At first our cattle flourished like the shrubs

that grew from his back. He is blind
now. His groin reflects a fire
in the hills. Starlight leaks

on his upturned face. He bends.
Like cattle the goddess denies
he nuzzles thin grass. A famine

extends. His dog has left us
and rides him. Neb is claw-footed.
His bare gonads turn to gold.

A lyre floats in the Tigris, unstrung.
Neb disintegrates. There will be stencils
of ash. Napalm and immolations

will be the burning bush. Daniel haunts him
and the three men not consumed. The slaves
are restless for their god. Trees will char.

Their oil catches. Balls of incandescence
burst from the canopy. Neb rolls,
rolls; the world is unmade.

As a raven watches him, a slave girl
dresses my hair. This is no one’s
Zion, she says. Spines grow

from his back. White reaches
from his face to the points of his legs –
the strokes of a foreign god

jealous for justice. A dog
(half out of the picture) leads him.
The slaves have been singing

though they said they would not.
The crimson shadow of my king
is a great river. Mountains

are olive in the divine storm.
A ram’s shadow kisses the bird-clawed
man. He is struck with a vein

of gold. Blood stains the hills.
As I order my hair dyed black
my lord’s mouth overflows with grass.

With indigo and henna my girl’s hands
are stained. Cool sherbet melts
on my tongue. The bleached man

with the cow’s muzzle lies on the earth.
A tree takes root in his navel,
blooms blue. He is clay whitened

by sun. Nisaba’s scribe, I keep
account of vines. A prophet says
we make the whole earth drunk.

Arched over his gold, Neb is too ill
to write or read. (His son will forget
the finger of a god.) The sky

glows pale over the khaki plain.
There are no carcasses beside his.
Beyond the horizon a fire is doused.

A mushroom cloud is rooted in his belly
where a tree once grew. A comb catches
in my hair. The famine breaks.

A shoot pushes from his bloat
with four black buds. Ibis
dip toward the two rivers. Eden.

My dowry cloaks him. Rain drives him
toward my crow-dark hair.
The trees are poised for flight.


Notes:
In response to viewing 9 paintings from Arthur Boyd’s Nebuchadnezzar in the Wilderness series,
The Agony and the Ecstasy Exhibition, NGA Canberra, 2014.

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