Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, COLD BLOOD, by KAREN SWENSON



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COLD BLOOD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: After murdering his father
Last Line: On limber fingers.
Subject(s): Burma; Fear; Murder; Punishment; Reincarnation; Transmigration; Pretas


After murdering his father
and marrying all the widows,
King Narathu feared reincarnation.
Perhaps he'd return as a lizard
to be stoned by the villagers,
skinned and roasted -
a sputtering drizzle of juice in the fire.

To evade fate he built
the largest temple in Pagan
on the plain already a hummocked quilt
of mud brick bribes against mortal deeds.

Mornings, he trailed his courtiers behind him
like a child with a clacking pull-toy,
through the dusty bristle of palms,
to insert a needle between yesterday's bricks.
If he could, the mason lost a finger.

Eight hundred years ago eight assassins
stabbed him, then each other,
but still bricks and mortar -
death's dust steeped and kneaded -
stack neat sandwiches.

In his dim arches, where bats swoop,
we shake our heads over his
litany of iniquity, loving it,
wanting evil to be monstrous, mythical,
something our ordinariness cannot achieve.

When he looked down his tunnel's sealed masonry
to the framed opening of light and green,
perhaps he longed to be
without the dark within.

Emerging from his shadows
where bats scream at the edge of hearing,
we watch a lizard warm his blood in the dust
circled by boys,
pouches of slingshots pulled taut
on limber fingers.





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