A King Sends a Delegation to Meet a Clan in the South

By | 1 May 2020

We’ve heard they make music
by tying tin pots to donkeys, yanking on the ropes
then beating them with wooden goads. We’ve heard
their highest cultural achievement
is a poetry that never veers from the subject
of spitting in public places, that they torture

hermetic dreamers
and anyone who perceives The Great Ferry Boat
among the stellar immensities. Can it really be true
they believe alliances
are jealousies, that they call the on-going hum of things
a disease of the ear and recommend breath-holding

as a cure? It’s said they sing
hymns to a coterie of aged parrots and at weddings
give gifts of broken trays, dented pots, torn quilts
and clothes of the dead.
We’ve heard they have embassies underground,
that they’re gathering information on clans

from the north, spreading
rumours we choose our leaders from those who can
best predict the future from the scratching behaviour
of flea-ridden dogs—
we can only think this is a result of their indulgence
in rancid goat butter and their belief that the mind

and the world are just shadowy
inventions and that wasps are lords of the sky.
I’ve sent a delegation carrying gifts of ivory, perfume,
jewellery, pottery, leather
and copperware to show that our artisans are the most
delicately skilled. Our musicians will astound

them with their rhythms and flutes,
and I have written a poem about mathematics
and its relationship to floods and plagues
which I hope can be translated
and recited, though we’ve heard their language
lacks complexity and rigour making it impossible

to pursue perfection in thought.
Perhaps our sweetmeats can tempt them into trade,
though we’ve heard they produce nothing of value
except a liquor made from
cinnamon and snake venom. We’ll offer them
our koumis, at a price of course, though we’ve

heard their currency is pond water
because it slips and scatters like money that’s made
in a dream. I just hope they don’t serve my hapless
diplomats their notorious
cuisine—fried horse eyes and braised yak tongues
in a thick brown paste of their own fermented viscera.

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