from Humayun Atones by Anand Thakore
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from Humayun Atones

by Anand Thakore

> "One of his later miracles or omens was when, after he had lost all his possessions and he was wandering in the desert, a solitary pack-camel appeared;,

it was laden with his most precious books...." - Rumer Godden, Gulbadan

They call me superstitious,

But this is only part of the truth.

Sure, there were times

When I foraged through your world for scraps of hope,

Scouring the stars and a thousand landscapes to learn,

If I would ever have my harem back, my gardens, my observatory-

but this was not what it was like

When I first looked at the zodiac signs embroidered on my tent,

Or years later, when I was drawn

To the upturned brows of a dying antelope,

A merchant in the desert,

With a single pomegranate left in his sack.

I wanted to know what these things were saying,

Not about me, my fortunes, or if and when

I would recapture the throne, but about themselves,

What they were saying about your world and how it moves.

Most of the time it was enough that you were speaking to me

Through all these images,

Regardless of what any of them might mean.

Opium I loved, as also your love;

Among the thousand voices of the poppy

I groped for your voice.

At times, I mistook my little blue tent,

With its painted stars, for your sky.

I sank through the quicksand that is behind the eye.

There was a man in green who said that you had sent him,

A flamingo and a hawk,

There were turtles there, bigger than any I'd seen,

A tambourine of poplars, white flakes of wind,

A veil of saffron that hid no face, brisk peals of laughter,

A lotus in the east that needed no lake to bloom in,

And upon the sand, an old scroll of odd phrases

Left to me by my father;

Phrases like clouds, placid horizontals,

That no longer cared to grow into lines.

I found no door to any life other than this,

nor did I search feverishly.

Camels, cushions, the scent of turmeric, a jeweled inkpot,

And always at the end of the desert, a cave full of ghosts.

A mellow brooding hung upon the air like fog.

I remember walking in - the tall grasses murmurous,

Sand on my tongue - but little thereafter.

I spoke with the dead, but never as one of their company.

I lost all sense of weight. I burrowed. I writhed.

A taut muscular spiral held me in its grip,

Till I could see no sense in trying to move.

You hid. You came too close. You stayed for dinner and then left.

So much that had seemed to mean so much,

Shrank in that saffron haze.

When my lost camel appeared in the wastes of Sind,

I was half asleep.

And it was those around me who took it for a sign

That I would be king again.

Publicly, I agreed with them,

because it seemed to keep them smiling;

But for myself, I was overjoyed

Simply to be back with my books.

All through that month I thought little

of the kingdom I'd lost.

I spent a whole week postponing plans for war,

Rooting through my books for a line of verse

I could only half-remember.

For this and other obvious omissions, as a king,

And for being a hopelessly ungifted builder of empires,

I do not ask to be forgiven.

I made a better career as a reader of your world.

But for the blinding of my brother,

Who now begs, they tell me, in Mecca,

Your name on his lips,

Absolve me.

I was trying so hard to be an Emperor.

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