I’m reading Neal Ascherson’s book The Black Sea and thinking about the ancient world for my novel and thinking about all those lives that happened outside of what we think of as culture and how little we know when we dig bones and treasure up and how little we will ever know. So we have to make it up.
A SCYTHIAN PRINCESS
She was a princess
and they found her gold
among her bones
tiaras, three of them,
round her grave-weathered skull.
Horses galloping where once her hair
waved endless like the grass
the grass her world.
Their hoofbeats never stir
her empty eyes. She slept beneath the grass
and mice, the small mice of the grass
and ate her fingers to the bone
and then the bone
She slept so sound the mice
could scurry into her, and never wake.
She was so tired.
Her sixty-seventh year
Their grand-sires’ fathers
brought and dried the reeds
that wove her cradle
and saw her walk
a proud sad child
up to her father’s chair
of reeds and gold
and then sit herself down.
Her feet just reached
She healed the goats’ pox
and she brought the corn
Talked to the Hellenes
charmed your warts away
and drew her knife across her lover’s throat
one line of blood to bring the rain
one line of blood to curse an enemy
his throat torn out
his guts torn out
thrown to the waiting birds
he trifled her
fingered the sacred girl who brewed the milk
the girl she could not and she would not kill.
Princesses both on grass without a queen.
The girl died. Lightning marked her death
and marked her grave. And then her brothers died
arrowed in ambush. Tears that would bring rain
no weeping for the dead.
She cut her robes, knife-cut her flesh
blood spattered on their grave
curse spattered those who killed them
who died soon, drunk, poxed, starveling and insane
and she rode on. Each horse she rode
greyed, stumbled. Meat for stew
its bones for flutes and needles.
she greyed and did not fall
her skin so soft
where butter eased the lines.
Her eyes as sharp as rain
as wind her mind. Her words
the quiet thunder in their minds
She slept one day and just forgot to breathe
it seemed to them. They stood and did not move
for fear of chiding. Sent their youngest child
to touch the lips, and listen for the breath
and nothing but the wind. They danced for her
slow mourning waves like grass in wind and rain
painted her skin in ochre, henna, woad
with sigils of her life and many deeds.
They built a shelter round her, burned the hemp
and breathed its madness, fathered many sons
all to be sons of her long barren life.
Sold horses to the Hellenes for the gold
horses that were their brothers on the grass
and hammered horses. Wound them round her head
and raised an earthwork higher than the grass
and laid her in it. And then rode away.