Well, what with one thing and another – mainly the fact that my laptop has blown up, tho’ fortunately it happened in slow motion so I was able to get all my data off the hard drive before the death – I haven’t had a moment to ponder Bryan Talbot in prose (trust me, it’s coming) so instead, I thought I’d post a poem from a while back. So, here’s ‘Iskandriya’, which I hope you enjoy –
Beneath the mosque, Scilitzis saw
a desiccated man in gold
enthroned inside a pure glass dome –
the story told by a dead writer
in a guidebook from between the wars –
a broken hole in antique walls.
The last of Alexandria.
Outside, live streets, a vital town;
Pastroudi’s Café, closed down.
Dust in the dead air, hard gold light
a gleam through lines of latticed slats.
The mirrors show me back myself.
What cracks the silent years apart?
It lets a little light break in
so something there so old can blaze –
Greek fire waits out centuries.
Mortar dies and dead blocks fail,
but polished tombs still throw back gold.
When Alexander ruled this place
he had his alchemists create
a man-sized, crystal diving bell.
He sank alone, his privilege –
hands pressed against the glass, and peered
out – in a glass-green, turbid world…
The streets where Cleopatra walked
temples where they’d chanted hymns –
the slatted tides had smothered them.
He lit a lamp, it made a mirror
of the glass dome’s cold dead skin.
Beneath the mosque, Scilitzis saw –
When I’ve done readings, I’ve had the audience whisper ‘Iskandriya’ at the end of every verse. Try it yourself when you’re reading it… Various different versions of Alexandria in there, my favourite is Scilitzis’ one. He was a Greek interpreter attached to the British Consulate who – as recorded by E.M. Forster – claimed to have climbed down beneath a certain mosque in the centre of town and – poking around in the catacombs – seen the dessicated, golden corpse of a king entombed in a glass dome.
Of course, nobody knows where Alexander is buried (nearby Siwa Oasis is another possibility) – I went down there myself, but you’re not allowed to explore. The tunnels stretch away into darkness, a little wooden ladder next to you, and you peer into the gloom and try and look back through the millenia to find Alexander, entombed in the diving bell his scientists made for him.