Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Like Mayflies in a Stream

Shamhat is one the strongest female protagonists you will find in a book of fiction, but she isn’t a child of the sixties or a modern feminist. She is a priestess and servant of the goddess Inanna, tending to her temple duties in Mesopotamia in 2800 BCE. In Shauna Roberts’ Like Mayflies in a Stream, Shamhat struggles to preserve faithfulness to her goddess, a task that conflicts with the personality of King Gilgamesh, who focuses on lust and feats of strength rather than the good of his people.

Shamhat’s conflict results from two dreams, one received by Inanna’s chief priest, Nanna-Ur-Sag, and another, one received by Gilgamesh himself. From his dream, Nanna-Ur-Sag believes that a powerful man from the desert is destined to restore order, balance, and justice to Uruk. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, believes that a powerful man from the desert is destined to be the one companion strong enough to complete his restless and reckless personality.

A wild man, Enkidu, indeed lives in the desert, but to lure him into the city—Shamhat’s mission as dictated by Gilgamesh—the priestess must lose the trappings of her holy office and use her highly advanced sexual artifice, usually used only on a sacredd feast day of Inanna, to humanize Enkidu and convince him to journey from the desert to the city. If she is successful, however, will Enkidu fulfill the vision of Gilgamesh’s dream, or that of Nanna-Ur Sag’s?

A lesser writer might well have lost the narrative structure of such a novel in trying to execute a plot faithful to ancient Sumerian customs and terminology. Roberts, a PhD in anthropology with a longstanding interest in the history of the Near East, smoothly incorporates her knowledge of ancient culture into the epic struggle of a swaggering king and a priestess attempting to keep her dignity and oaths while mediating a battle between the earth and the heavens.

The novel will appeal to those who love both adventure and historical fiction. At a deeper level, the book is a fascinating and detailed character study of Shamhat as she uses humility and resolve, not combat, to retain her inner strength and core values while trying to save an entire city. Like Mayflies in a Stream (Hadley Rille Books, 2009) is an archaeologically-accurate novel that frames contemporary questions and struggles within ancient Mesopotamia. Roberts’ choice of time and place proves that the tension between integrity and power is a universal and ongoing conflict that lies at the heart of all human struggle, and, more importantly, human growth.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mountain, Plain

For One Single Impression

The mountain peak
dreams of love on grassy plains.
The acacia dreams of heaven.

A fading face
dreams of supple lines and lips.
The child seeks pain at seven.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Meeting Mr. Tennyson

Pulp museums, anachronisms—that’s what they are,
old soldiers dressed in fine leather jackets,
guarding knowledge and admitting access
to inquisitive index fingers worn a bit from life.

I don’t recall the volume number now—
I believe it was “Teapot to Utah”—
where I met Mr. Tennyson laboring at his desk,
hunched over, old, bearded, intense.

He was writing lines for In Memoriam,
one-hundred-and-thirty-three poems
for his friend Arthur Henry Hallam
who had faded early into senseless, seamless death.

The poet no longer understood God or life,
and his midnight poems were an encyclopedia
of sadness seduced, of grief, questions,
and occasionally a mustard seed of hope.

On cold nights when bony branches tap the windowpane,
death’s raw reminder, I read Mr. Tennyson’s encyclopedia.
My index finger runs across the troubled rhyme and verse
as the furnace down below goes quietly to sleep.

I do not feel so lonely in the presence of his words.
Someone was investing ink to clarify a mind besieged,
and that is comfort enough, a distant mercy
for my winter-frozen heart to seize and keep.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When the World Goes Digital

You shall be in high definition, I suspect,
your beauty a Tibetan crystal,
clear and serene,
and only a thousand chanting monks
will have the saffron power
to make your third eye resonate.

Still, I hope you shall forgive me, love,
for what I, a farmer in some forgotten field, must do.
When the sun finds facets on your angled face,
I shall kiss the pixels of your eyes and cheeks
before stepping back in time
to a checkered shirt and denim jeans,
my proper time and place.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I think that somewhere, perhaps,
against all odds, as astronomical
as a metallic man in Vegas
giving me pocket change,

my double, a ghost
in a three-piece suit,
follows me as fastidiously as a butler.
I glimpse him from the corner of my eye,

and he is briefly there,
picking up paper I dropped
or making excuses for a clumsy run-in
I had with a pedestrian.

In short, he is picking up my mess,
the inevitable dregs fallen from my life
like scales fallen from the skin of Adam.
if I turn my head sharply,

looking long and hard,
he disappears. But that is the way it is, I suppose,
when one tries to glimpse
the minions of God.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Multiply the Answer by Pigeons

(A Beat poem I wrote many years ago. Some poems should be a bit "off-center" in meaning.)

You can’t possibly tell me what’s on the fire escape
or why the old Italian woman is playing the concertina
so soon after her husband shot himself full of needles.
You can’t tell me why the Buddha hovers over the intersection
and nobody notices the quiet karma of the traffic lights.

Take any given siren.
The emergency is only speculative
from five floors up.
Maybe Macbeth has murdered Duncan in lower Manhattan.
It’s all too much.

Divide the city by two
and multiply the answer by pigeons.
All you get are repeating decimals in Central Park.

Sometimes pedestrians freeze to death
when their feet get stuck to the sidewalk.
Who can blame them in subzero?
Their color is gone by lunchtime.

The light turns green,
the siren fades,
pigeons start pecking decimals
left on the ground by school children.

I don’t especially want answers—
I want to know what causes the questions.

For example:
a fat Buddha on a silkscreen
is holding an orange.
Is he going to throw it at the Italian woman?
Does he hate the concertina?

Did you hear the one about the little old lady
looking for a book on Zen?
She goes into a bookstore,
stares at the clerk,
but doesn’t say much.