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.


Ray Nayler

About Ray Nayler

Ray Nayler’s poetry has been published in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Weave, Juked, Able Muse, Sentence, Phantom Limb, and many other magazines. His novel American Graveyards was published in the UK by Third Alternative Press. His cross-genre short stories have been published or are upcoming in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and the Berkeley Fiction Review, among others. He is a Cultural Affairs Officer with the Department of State, currently posted to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. You can follow him and find links to his work at
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