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padmishah (the last sultan)


dedalus
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I had words on the tip of my tongue

and was just about to say them, when

a whitewash seemed to splash over me

and left me gawping blank and mindless:

 

fuck if this don't be happening too often

lately, as if my thoughts were cast out to sea

and no boats sent after them,

leaving them there to roar and drown.

 

I frown and pull myself together, wrapping

quilts around me, rat-tap-tapping

a soft tattoo on the backbone

of the purring complacent cat.

 

There are noises without, but I fear them not,

they are as nothing to the voices within.

 

One does not, I reflect, expect to grow old,

one does not think of it, not when one

is young and manly, so full of sap and strength

and laughing and careless, it never really

 

crosses the mind. Now I have grown old,

grown old and ill, all in a single season,

and face the disposition of the Empire.

 

My sons are fools, my wives little better;

they engage in shoddy political manoeuvres

as if I were deaf and blind. But I expected

that, and it is possible that I would not mind

 

so much had they not been so thoughtless

shallow and unkind. I find I resent the way

they have considered me deaf and almost blind

as they soon will dicover, when they will pay

 

with their lives. X and Y and Z must die

with their families to be sent into exile;

four of the more strident concubines

will be silently, expertly, painlessly strangled

 

dispatched, needless to say, with silken cords

in the traditional manner, as befits their station.

One must uphold the standards of the nation.

 

Many of the servants must be executed

by simpler means, the rest thrown into prison

as a frisson of fear runs through the land.

 

This is all to the good. We do so little for the people

as it is, they enjoy a bloodletting of their betters;

it helps to soften the clamp of the iron fetters

that grip them in taxation, that send their sons to war.

 

I learned this from grandfather, whose great-grandfather

conquered this kingdom from the back of a horse.

But you cannot rule a kingdom from the back of a horse,

you need to bring in the Christians and the Jews

 

who are educated people, scholars and artisans;

and you must keep a stern rein on your own people,

bluff warriors and dangerous partisans. As a child

I listened: this is what grandfather told me.

 

Bluff warriors and dangerous partisans, I chuckle

mirthlessly. Grandfather, you had only to see

your gaggle of descendants coming after me

 

to readily agree with my stringent course.

They will die or be sent away: I shall spare

any boy who shows he can ride a horse.

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Quite stylish!- It flows from one moment to the next painting a wondrous auto-portrait of the last Sultan. Really a nice example of your lyrical work combined with a well crafted portraiture- and a great historical insight.......

 

Enjoyed!

 

DC&J

thegateless.org Come on over and check out my poetry substack y'all;-) Or if your bored, head to the Zazzle store: https://www.zazzle.com/store/gateless. If you buy anything I lose a bet, so consider that before you violate the digital rules.

 

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What strikes me the most is how the poem starts out on some emotional level --

 

I had words on the tip of my tongue

and was just about to say them, when

a whitewash seemed to splash over me

and left me gawping blank and mindless:

 

fuck if this don't be happening too often

lately, as if my thoughts were cast out to sea

and no boats sent after them,

leaving them there to roar and drown.

 

I frown and pull myself together, wrapping

quilts around me ...

-- from where it slips into the emperor's mundaneness, his everyday disposal of his chattel:

 

They will die or be sent away: I shall spare

any boy who shows he can ride a horse.

How matter-of-factly effective! In some superficial way, he is even fair:

 

My sons are fools, my wives little better;

they engage in shoddy political manoeuvres

as if I were deaf and blind.

He is critical of his own, though it's doubtful he is as austere with them. And these lines remind me a lot of the part in Robert Frost's Desert Places --

 

There are noises without, but I fear them not,

they are as nothing to the voices within

-- where Frost writes, "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces/Between stars—on stars where no human race is/I have it in me so much nearer home/To scare myself with my own desert places."

 

I'm no sultan, but I understand his frustration(s), and I can especially relate to the first four verses of your poem. Well done!

 

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Brennan, How do you come up with this stuff? I am wracking my brain for something to write about and you spin a wonderful tale about an aging sultan... totally believable, intriguing and lyrical.

 

Tony gave a great review, I just have to thank for using "gawp", what a great word.

 

~~Tink

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

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