Alexander Leaves Babylon
Alexander wept in Babylon, not because
his father had died or his old tutor
had looked at him finally with those eyes of stone
but because the drink of Babylon
was so good. It tasted of dandelion milk
squeezed from a stalk still in its greenness.
Here in his hand—the world: but first this glass of clarity
swelling like sunlight and as sharp. Yes, winter
had aged him suddenly as a straw statue left outdoors
in the everness of the terrible Gedrosian:
that skin-colored bowl soft as the palm of God
where the urge to understand met the urge to disappear
and the two lay down to couple in the dust.
Sand scrubbed him clean as a glass there; he came out
empty as the strange room that widens between
two heart-beats: vacant as this circle of faces gathered at table—
flames staring quietly from a white fire
visionlessly patient in its dinner of elimination.
I need no one else I am a star
Then the gemmed
cats ranged under the table, and a rainbow-
colored snail kissed the marbling foot.
Note: Alexander the Great died of a mysterious fever contracted at a feast in Babylon. He was there returning from his campaign in India; it had ended with a disastrous crossing of the Gedrosian desert which gruesomely decimated his army.
This poem first appeared in Tin House, 18.1