August 2011


Rosetta Allan
Jenny Argante
Gigi Fenster
Helen Heath
Kerry Hines
David Howard
Andrea Jeftanovic
André Naffis-Sahely
James Norcliffe
Maris O'Rourke
Jack Ross
L.E. Scott
Campbell Taylor
Alan Wall
Hayden Williams

Issue 16 Guest Artist:
Tom Mutch

President: Peter Robertson
Vice-President: Sari Nusseibeh
Deputy Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Advisory Consultant: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Deputy General Editor: Jeff Barry

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boullossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Sampurna Chattarji
Sarah Churchwell
Hollis Clayson
Sally Cline
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Siobhan Harvey
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Paschalis Nikolaou
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Assistant Editor: Sara Besserman
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Conor Bracken
Assistant Editor: Eugenio Conchez
Assistant Editor: Patricia Delmar
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Krista Oehlke
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Assistant Editor: Stephanie Smith
Assistant Editor: Robert Toperter
Art Consultant: Verónica Barbatano
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. The Fourth King by Alan Wall  


The Fourth King

Convinced they said January
not December.
There I stood in Damascus Central
fur-coated, cigar in mouth,
one silent servant either side.
My vast sandalwood leather-strapped trunks
crammed with enough curios
to start a car-boot sale
in the Bethlehem suburbs.
Ivory-handled razors
tortoise-shell combs.

No sign of them.
Thought they must be on the train already.
Trans-Levantine Express:
a train in the days
when our boys knew how to make them:
mahogany, silver, brass, silk, cotton, porters.
Grilled fish for breakfast
peacock breast paté served in the evening.

Strolled from one end to the other
in clouds of Havanna
peering in every carriage
except where the blinds drawn down
made enquiry verboten
to anyone but a uniformed Venus.
Ribbons and stays
cognac and lipstick
endearments breathed in steam hieroglyphics
on the dark glass pane.

Sat in the dining compartment
searching in vain for my three friends' faces.
Stare through a speeding window.
See the nova
up there in the dark
bright as a nuclear conflagration.

Found a poker game
where I lost enough
for five poor men of my kingdom
to live out five lifetimes
without one smudge of dirt on their fingers.

On the second night
a certain countess from the Steppes
smiled a smile
my royal heart's accustomed to.
Her couchette smelt of eau-de-cologne
Turkish cigarettes
a thousand nights exactly like this one.

Expert she was
treating each caress as the first.
Her sighs primeval.
Needed gold as all Russian countesses do.

Then in the hours left over
before the village revelations
I read frantically
through my sacred books:
the predicted death of empires
prefigured in the sky at midnight once
over Babylonia.

Arrived at the promised platform in Bethlehem
the day my companions were leaving
noting in their faces
an absence of the usual kingly fraughtness
that palace calendar ticking protocols behind our eyes.
Radiance or vacancy? I couldn't say.
Thought I'd travel to Jerusalem
by taxi
stay for a while
at the King David Hotel.
My Russian countess
joined me for the weekend.
A raven-headed fiddler
played 'Dark Eyes' at our table in the evening.

The pilgrims
didn't convince me
torn as they were
between Torah and tequila.
In the distance somewhere
occasional explosions followed by sirens.

Back finally to this palace
high on its hill
above my mighty rivers.
Creatures scurry over marble floors
lives bent solely to please and entice me.
Bowing so deep their spines
describe crescents in livery.
Papers signed with a yawn:
one life to be granted before noon
another forfeited come evening.
My vizier's metal nose
shines candlelight flares
across parchment.
Trees vomit greenness
over of my lawns.
Flowers whisper in darkness
plotting one more aphrodisiac spring.

Rumours from time to time
of the scattered trinity: Melchior, Balthazar
...the other whose name I've now forgotten...
revising credos, refurbishing basilicas
smashing old stone gods
from sunlight to dust and rubble.

(For myself I have outlawed
zealotry and iconoclasm
in my termperate territories)

I could have added one more red letter
to my liturgy
one more rubric
this time in Greek and named
so they say

I take comfort.

Despite the portent
(a galaxy swallowed in flame
to make one single announcement —
a serious splash in the red-tops these days)
they got the wrong man.
What kind of god
dies crying nailed to a piece of rough wood
Roman soldiers laughing all round him
as the Easter weather finally breaks?