Quincing the Poet

What can you see elsewhere that you cannot see here? ... Had you never gone out and listened to idle talk, you would the better have remained perfectly at peace.
—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

The Queen of Sheba packed fenugreek,
turmeric, milled cardamom, desiccated
coconut, sweet almond oil, figs, fat
amber dates, green lemons, and mint,
onto a dozen knobbly camels. Let’s see,
Poetaster, how your sinuses like these!
Her eyes lit up like a clutch
of desert sunrises. Hessian, leather,
cedarwood slats, shavings of gold leaf,
Tyrian silk, muslin, bronze buckles,
tamarind, juniper, quinces and kumquats
in barrels. There, Poet-guy! She herself strapped
the last bulging bundle to the caravan’s
last beast. They set off on the sixth day
of the sixth month, a long haul. They lost
a hound, had to let go five bolts of silk,
for water; her men got fighting with silver-knived
brigands with brassy tongues; her women split
into those who desired celebrity with the P-g,
who made her laugh, and those who wished her
well, this time, which made her maudlin. A baby
needled for food and a warm cot. Eventually
they arrived at Poetman’s place—his birthplace,
the guide clarified—a simple lodge overshadowed
by leaning olives. A bench out back
and buckets for livestock. Someone
lives here, still? She felt rigid, rich
with anticipating. They pressed in:
porticoes in parallel lines, orange poppies
in deep beds; acres, east and west, of orchids.
Her heart went skip-a-hop; her stomach
sick, to its pit.

More Poems by Geraldine Clarkson