What draws me is the scratching of my tribe
Hacked deep into the temple column base:
Four squares together form
The gouged trace of a game.
You rise up from this sign.
Dumping chipped sword in the dirt,
Mannish-mended blanket as a seat,
You sweating work the board
With blunt bronze dagger,
Blowing dust of chipped stone
From the grooves.
Now it is done.
In the temple column’s shade
While others make offerings,
And the high priest drones on,
Goring his hands in goat-guts,
You stifle laughter, scatter bones,
Punch each other on the shoulder.
Later you’ll go naked to the river.
This far from home, you’re never really clean.
Tired, afraid, you lift your gaze across the Oxus,
Thinking arrows arcs down-swooping on the shields,
Rumors of the armored juggernauts
The enemy will use to pulp your bones.
You force your concentration to the game.
You rise, real as me, up from this sign.
*written after visiting Takhti-Sangin, the “Temple on the Oxus” established by Alexander the Great. The temple’s excavated remains are located just west of the confluence that forms the Amu Darya River, known to the Greeks as the Oxus, the present-day border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.