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Unreliable Narration

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Of Mina-sarpilili-anda II,
the only surviving record
is this splendid bas-relief in which
he presses the neck of his Hittite foe
beneath one battle-shod foot
while minions shoulder the spoils
of a conquered city.

                                                                   In fact
there was no war that year; a bored stone-carver
was looking for preferment. He received
an allowance of good wine.
In a perfumed cloud of dust
that loitered over the plain,
Hittite ambassadors came to the king
with golden bells and rosewater candy,
birds in cages and spotted cats,
and departed in peace. The king was beloved,
laughed often, feared nothing, and died in his bed
of poison.

                                  A carnelian image
of his second-best wife,
accurate to the last mole, was plucked
from the dirt by a boy tending goats, sold,
and spirited out of the country, rolled in a rug,
on a ship that sank on a cloudless day.
An image of his first wife, in chrysoprase,
lies tightly packed in buried rubble
for the next generation of archaeologists—
should they prove worthy,
persistent,
and slyer than goatherds.


Source: Poetry (October 2008)
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Unreliable Narration

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