At the Blasted Gates
At the blasted gates Gilgamesh falls to his knees.
‘What now?’ he cries.
His voice is shale slipping in a scoured quarry.
Nowis a square porch and buckled steel lattice
Where smoke furls like a greasy flag
And a scorched man cresting an escalator
Glides the last flattened treads.
Smiling through his burns
He stretches a blackened hand,
Saying, as if he has just woken ‘Ah, my friend,
Your voice is parched from long walking.’
To which Gilgamesh replies, and his words are husks,
‘My bones are brittle wicker. Breath grates like a gritty chore.
There is a spur in my belly. It jags me on
To pace the roads.
Like a child’s jibe it goads my swollen knees.
Once I was in a garden of emeralds and amethysts,
A place where the wind cooled as it glanced
Past a million polished facets.
But now I cannot rest,
Even though I have been told in slabs of certain truth
There is no alchemy,
Between the sapphires in dreams and the mud bricks of waking.’
The Coming of Enkidu
Gilgamesh squats on the pavement.
‘You seem familiar.’ He touches the fire-bitten fingers
While all around him sirens whoop and men scurry.
‘I think I saw you once in dismal water
At the far end of a jetty,
When the stones at my feet seemed to bob
In quicksilver and oil
And night and tide were one steady heave.
Your face flickered there
Lost and small.’
The man laughs, despite his blisters,
His charred brow and flame-tightened sinews.
‘My brother, it was me, surely. I was in your eyes as I looked up
Through murk and flotsam trash.
But more; I have been the faint curlew weeping
In the spiral of your ear.
I was the standing post way out on salt marsh –
A far sentinel keeping stride with your steps,
Or so you fancied.
I have almost forgotten the sore joy of body,
The load of limbs, sweat prickling my brow.
Snow like a virgin’s kiss on my tongue.
Gilgamesh, see me closely. I was Enkidu,
The First Grief of Gilgamesh
Tears like pearls dissolving at the end of time
Break from the eyes of Gilgamesh.
He weeps in the gutter
And wrings the claw of his dark companion.
A helicopter hovers above them
Shuffling thunder through choking clouds.
And a long racking maunder falls from the wanderer’s lips –
‘Enkidu is it you? Tell me it is not. Tell me.
Enkidu who shone in the bronze mirror of my youth?
Enkidu who bucked and leapt
In the rut of love and battle?
I have walked all these years.
The wind was emptied of your voice.
Where your face had been there was the space between two stars.
No rumour of you in any town.
At the riverside the sun dappled through the trees
But not on your skin.
You were gone.’
‘Gilgamesh’ is a series of eight poems in Steven O’Brien’s forthcoming
collection, Scrying Stone, (Greenwich Exchange Press 2010).