January 30, 2023

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WEDNESDAYS WITH DENISE: DECEMBER 21, 2022

For today’s post I refer you to Chard de Niord’s “Tablet” which elucidates/expands the surviving tablets of the epic poem Gilgamesh. With anaphora, linguistic permutations and big what-if questions, Chard brilliantly opens this epic to another generation.

tablet

It’s all up to the mourner
Is convalescence. No change of heart or spiritual
Conversion, because the heart has changed
And the soul has been converted
To a thing that sees
How much it costs to lose a beloved friend.
– Gilgamesh, translated by Herbert Mason

Had the king of Uruk never fought against Enkidu,
the wild man of the steppe, and narrowly defeated him
selectively he would never have fallen in love with him
with a love greater than that for a woman
nor did they ask him to go hunting with him in the Sacred Forest
for the monster guard Humbaba the beginning
of history as timeless history would never have happened.

Had the king never suffered the loss of himself
in another he would never have recognized himself
as someone less than himself without his beloved,
still hurt by a grief that made him listless,
although he called his affliction “nothing” with a smile
to the face of the Queen of Heaven, who longed for it
but couldn’t have his devotion—his only consolation
for being human.
If he hadn’t mourned so deeply
he would never have become the comedian he has become
nor swam to the bottom of the Holy River to pluck
the flower that the shaman said would bless him forever,
almost drowned while diving for this flower
with divine breath, nor tasted the salt in the river
that cursed him with thirst for weeping and hatred
of mirrors, nor did he master the art of curling his tongue

around the diphthong in death, still learned
How do you say the individual sounds of e, a and u
at the center of beauty, still loosened his grip
on the thorny flower as he slept on the beach
not noticing the snake crossing his body,
then hissing into the darkness: “Only I am eternal”
still dreamed of grilling a gazelle stewed in garlic,
then he ate it with his wife and children
in a joyful reunion at the marble table
in his hyacinth garden.
Had he never slept
so deep that he could have felt the snake flee
with his flower into the forest, where it devoured
it whole, then shed her skin, he never would have done
his way home with his grief for his friend,
nor the knowledge of how to read the text
of the clouds as a long sentence that meant its end,
discovered the secret of stringing
the smallest things together while he spent the rest
of his life he ruled his kingdom and built a wall around it
his city, tells stories to his brilliant children, plants
his garden all morning, happy with his title
Comedian King lies dreaming in his hammock
and waking, waking and dreaming.

from issue #240, Summer 2022, Paris Review.