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CRETAN SOJOURNSA writer's 15-year odyssey
Publisher Nikos Kalendis and JD in Athens 1996
Here is a short story of a long road to publication that might offer hope to fellow writers—and a tribute to the people and the man who made everything possible for this one.
I moved to New York City to become a writer, but it was meeting and losing Eve Helene Wilkowitz there that completely transformed my spiritual and writer's relationship to tradition. So began many sojourns and incredible relationships in Crete---because if archaeology means anything to history, that was where The West began. From 1980 to the early 1990s, Ariadne’s Brother became a 2,000-page manuscript. Thanks to a native Athenian friend, Ms. Despina Kakoudakis (today a brilliant professor at American University in Washington D.C.), I secured a publishing contract with Efstathiadis Group, an Athens publisher of many Minoan-related books. And I signed it, although it handed “all rights, world-wide,” to Efstathiadis, and promised me “5% of the net” of sales-proceeds—meaning, the publisher took 95% of everything, and the “net” would be what was left when the lawyers and accountants had finished with the figures. Well—This seemed to be the book’s only chance, and this was the first time I’d been taken (pun intended) seriously as a writer.
From that uneasy Athens signing, I went back to Crete to finish the book, living happily in the garage of a wonderful family’s home beneath a huge fig tree, across the street from the beach of Amnisos and the old Minoan port. But the more hope grew about the book, the more this foolish contract gnawed at me. Enter my friend Despina’s Cretan uncle, Mr. Tony Kakoudakis—who, in the most brotherly and protective ways, hammered me every day that I would be sorry if I went through with Efstathiadis’ terms.
Late at night, after closing-time at Tony’s small but spectacular seaside taverna, we’d drink Cretan wine and talk through the mind-bending passages that Tony read in Greek from a cherished little book on philosophy by Nikos Kazantzakis, who had written books in a shack himself along this beach. Galleys began to arrive. And, day after night in the midst of these intoxications, Tony hammered on. Iakobos! Iako-vay! You cannot give away 15 years of work and at the same time honor yourself, and this thing you have accomplished!
Efstathiadis’ books were in every single kiosk and bookstore in Greece, in every language. Yet, Tony was right. I needed a lawyer. So I took the contract to Mr. Smbokos in Heraklion—a wiry-haired slim mountain-man from Anogia, one of Crete’s toughest towns, with a curled-up handlebar moustache that rivaled Wyatt Earp’s. First we tried some re-negotiation: then he threatened to expose the “hidden in the Greek fine print” approach to the contract. “You can pick up your manuscript in Athens,” Efstathiadis replied at last. “And if we never see you again, it will be too soon for us.”
So began my second rescue, shared by so many loving friends of Greece and Crete.
The dapper Mr. Stellios Sapounzis ran a bookstore called To Fos (The Lamp) in Heraklion. Stellios’ intellectual life and generosity eventually linked me to an old colleague and publisher in Athens: Mr. Nikos Kalendis, who with his nephew Dr. Alexandros Kalendis, ran that publishing house for scholarly and “serious” new books.
Nikos & Alexandros Kalendis with JD, 1996
Kalendis’ reader, Mr. Paris Boulakis of Athens, gave Nikos a strong recommendation to publish—and although Ariadne’s Brother took more years yet to finish and produce, it never would have happened unless both Nikos and Alexandros had believed in and carried it all the way. Every time I came to Greece, these gentlemen and the people around them found 12 ways to show me friendship and professional dedication. Nikos was a deeply learned, warm, easygoing and lively man who cherished his family and great books (however “minor” their successes might seem in commercial terms). Nikos liked to cook and serve Cretan snacks in his Athens office, and to share his expertise on Classical Greece from the Acropolis and the fresh springs of Mount Hymettos to the glories of Sounion Head.
The more Nikos found in the book, the more he laid out plans, including money to have Ariadne’s Brother appear in Greek at the same time. He secured one of Greece’s most renowned translators for the job—who, in a phrase, quickly and quietly drank himself to death with Nikos’ advance. Still, Nikos and Alexandros did not give up. In 1996 they sent me on a Cretan book-tour that still glows as the experience of a lifetime. And soon, Nikos arranged for another distinguished Cretan scholar (my dearest Vasiliki, Ms. Vicky Chatzopoulou of Sitia) to translate the book, while others added everything from footnotes to a Forward that declared, “There is not a line that is not poetry.”
There are simply
no words for the love, respect, friendship, help and generosity I have received
from innumerable Greek and Cretan friends. A long list of them is the final
page of Ariadne’s Brother and here I can only repeat endless thanks. To
have shared their ways of life is to be homesick for the rest of yours.
Meanwhile, the files that became Ariadne’s Brother never really closed, because there was still so much story to tell about Minoans down the generations that followed Crete’s occupation by mainland Mycenaeans—especially by the time they’d become Philistines, living in Canaan in the time of ancient Israel’s emergence.
So I have been trying to write a sequel (People of the Sea) which has already demanded nearly the same 15-year period needed for the first book. In fact, I have launched lengthily into this sequel three different times already and have never been satisfied—a quandary that goes on to this day (“I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me”). Not least because I can find no agent or publisher on the planet who will so much as receive it. Perhaps it suffers from the same flaw in my other works: you actually have to read it. I keep remembering what New York said about Ariadne’s Brother (although it made money): “We don’t even want to look at it, because of what it’s about.” Quote-Unquote.
So, if I may offer any advice to young and fellow writers, it might be two-fold.
First, meaning and method. Find the subject that pulls you early out of bed every morning because you cannot live without discovering and communicating “the answers.” Sacrifice everything to getting the work done. Launch yourself on the subject and the world—Connect, Connect, Connect. Ruthlessly steal and relish every possible minute you can wrest, with your soul, from the machine that works to grind it to a powder for somebody else’s buck. The instant and long-term glorious rewards that nobody can take from you will be in the living and the writing.
Second, as William Blake said in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “Expect poison from standing water.” In a phrase, Go Around The Profit-Machine that actually blocks you from reaching people and moving your audience, changing the world. The planet is filled with people starving for strong works. Produce your own, be part of and/or create events that speak your poetry—and you will find those people. Believe in them, even if agents, publishers, hackademics and media morons don’t.
On that note, I make bold to invite your critical feedback on what I can presently bear to share from People of the Sea—a work in progress.
People of the Sea: A Novel of The Promised Land.
Copyright 2011 Jack Dempsey.
All Rights Reserved.
my mother and father,
Irene Barbara Geremonte,
John Thomas Dempsey,
Dr. Jack Dempsey
The hope is to unbury:
healing out of the half-known.
If you are in a hurry,
leave this book alone.
COVER: an ivory plaque from Ugarit, on the coast of Syria, c.1200 BCE
How did The West really begin? As a man-eating empire? A doomed utopia? Time and science have undone these fables about Minoan Crete and its surround of Aegean and Mediterranean peoples. From about 3000-1400 BCE, they comprised an observant, advancing and lively web of cultures centered in cycles of nature, in their ancestors and kinship, and in trade across most of their differences. Their story was old at the birth of books, its clues hidden (or twisted) for millennia.
Although shattered by natural disasters and invasions, these families and tribes did not disappear with the Bronze Age. Both conservative and eclectic, many mixed with known neighbors, from Cyprus and Sicily, Egypt, Libya and Asia Minor to the Near East. About ten generations after the fall of Knossos Labyrinth, their Iron Age peers called them Sea Peoples.
What if a long-lived man with the blood of a Minoan priest-chief found himself a witness to the Old Testament days of Samuel, Saul and David? Deucalion son of Minos and the rest are figures of legend. But what have 100 years of archaeology done to the stereotypes inherited from all sides of the traditional story?
Were Sea Peoples (including Pulesati or eventual Philistines) only brutish bands of seagoing raiders? Why did they attack Egypt, but plant in Canaan? Did they “sorely oppress” the highland Hebrew tribes, to keep the emergent Ysryli (or, Israel) “in their power”? Were their wars about religion and culture-conflicts, or something else?
It is time for The West’s foundational inheritance to interrogate its facts with fiction, its fictions with fact. I hope this work can also evoke the Sea Peoples’ spiritual universe, their sense of nature and their own being within its cosmic cycles.
Sustaining 15 years since Ariadne’s Brother was a journey, in Crete, to the spring at the cave of Mount Ida. There, my host cleansed the ancient stone basin with pebbles and her hands, and welcomed me to drink. I was obliged by that gift, and by other springs as old and refreshing.
Stoneham, Massachusetts, USA 2011
The rationalists had their first setback when Sir Arthur Evans uncovered Knossos, with its labyrinthine complexity….The most fantastic part of the tale having thus been linked to fact, it becomes tempting to guess where else a fairy-tale gloss may have disguised human actualities.
Mary Renault, note to The King Must Die
Once across, you can, for all I care, blow the bridge sky-high.
You have to see how everything turns out, for God gives a glimpse of happiness to many people, and then tears them up by the very roots.
Herodotus, The Histories I.32
Birth & Death
1: Labrys & Lightning
3: Night of The Griffin
4: The Great Green
5: Separation & Trial
6: Trial & Revelation
8: Promised Land
10: King Shaoul
11: King Dawid
Death & Birth
His skin was red-brown copper, the face sun-lined and civilized, old with a daemon smile. A crown of curls so raven-black they were almost alarming in a man of years, and dark eyes, island blood. Many harbors liked his boats, and the elders took him for a trader, a planter of vine and olive. Or was that his father? And each tribe of families he fabled with a name: Deucalion Sweet Wine, Otus, Iakos. His own, he’d learned to keep. People welcomed wine where a land met the waters, and they envied his ships, like cranes, living out free and secret ways all around the killing.
The mothers’ eyes had long been closed who saw the island-mountain Thera fall in fire; and, with it, Knossos Labyrinth. But not his eyes. Twelve generations after them this man lived, a blessed curse, a cursed blessing—while the tribes of their children, confounded by their ancient dispossessions, wandered into war. Where waters met the land, their weapons were cutting down every king in sight of The Great Green.
Alone before them now stood The Nile’s third Ramses, his armies not those of his fathers. And beyond the Djahi killing-grounds, the tribes saw the great river’s vast green country, good for boats, fat with grain; her seven arms wide, they sang, to wed new husbands from the sea. Bread, home-earth, harbors: their tents had spoken, and their voices keened from the shoreline’s darkened dunes.
A fire burned in the midst of battle council: the speakers of their twelve tribes, beaten once, disconsolate, and this man. Somebody, begin! Why not him in that pilgrim’s cloak of his, pouring? What news? They drank and remembered homes where he had poured before, to turning tides. Or was that his father? A darkling fellow, but good for the word all sides where he turned up, a memory, a herald.
Ready now to betray them and their enemies, he spoke with a cup in his outstretched palms.
–This place be the center
of the circles of the world.
From a hundred camps of exile, this the place
we dedicate ourselves beyond our names,
sisters and brothers,
untamed equals born of Gi, Ptgyh, Earth Mother.
Stand before the fire, woman, man,
once in truth before you die:
look your family in the eyes and say
why, in this fight before us,
your courage will endure your blood upon a blade,
why moon and sun shall see
an end of wandering, people of the sea.
As ever first to rise,
Pelasgian, and a woman—a Turan, as we say Lady.
Pyx the name,
a daughter of Earth-Gaia’s first human beings.
In every one of you, that blood
bears memory of your first mothers and fathers,
and as your feet know the paths of your grandmothers’ groves
brought Herself forth
and gave Being
space and light
in parting the waters from the sky;
like a crane rising into the morning
rose to the goodness
and in joy She spoke
Her name of great dominion,
in its vast vibration of Her happiness
became a rhythm
song of birth
and Her body
always before our eyes
as in the rhythm of my hips, the sway of waters,
danced a gentle joy
that rose within Her senses
to a knowledge of Her own infinitude.
Her spirit moved in love on the face of the waters
and Her dance raised up prodigious wind
behind Her, shimmering, quick-bright as silver,
a thing mysterious, beautiful, a monster
who came awake in love with what He saw.
Snake, prodigious beast of being
following Her, became
Her Partner in this dancing of the world,
each in ecstasy
beyond themselves, together
the horned new moon the cradle of cold suns,
the swaying of the sea beside the sky.
His wanting Her
is the deep waters girdling the world,
the serpent in the swaying of my hips
and in our gardens, holy communions:
To Her he poured his coiled-up innards out,
and love brought forth The Egg that birthed the world.
Who remembers Earth young,
New Moon the mother of Summer Sun, first dawn of Gi
when the green mountains sang, rivers clapped hands
and every star of morning shouted joy?
Pelasgians, and so with our first eyes
we see the ruin you blood-sick boys have wrought,
kings and kingly sons, greedy frauds who call us peasants.
Six hundred kinsman-spears come running to this fight,
black as this remembering blood between us.
Tell you why: never once surrendered, not a child of us
to that first fool of you, posted at your crotch:
Snake, prodigious Ophion,
the father of your imbecilic lies.
Who saw the splendor of the world
and told its Mother
I made you:
She gave Him Her good heel across the head,
kicked His teeth out, too, to help him think again,
and from those teeth Pelasgians were born.
We are The West, the flight from madness:
daemon of you all, ragged tribes, sullen-proud,
first and thirteenth people of the world.
Flood-riders, stork-folk, children of the cranes,
the salt in every clan of you,
raisers of gigantic stones still standing in the memories of men.
Gozo, Nuraghi, seed of the Tyrrhenoi, island-peoples, from Thessaly
through the Cyclades and the twelve great isles of Asia,
we taught men’s hands the ways of grain
and now we scrape our fingers into mouse-holes for their stores.
Squanderers of the seed! Great chiefs, dispossessed by wishes,
taste in smoke and fire what we bore first.
Do not say it, Achaians of the south and north,
Argivi, Ironheads, that your fathers did not take
our grandmothers’ groves, their mysteries and children
from the plain of Argos to Mother Kriti‘s isles, Miletus, Troy.
Tonight, speak once from memory
the great homes roofed with multicolor tiles, shining back the sea at Lerna:
the first age of the world you turned to slavery and ash.
Your misery is Goddess law come down.
Rejoice! Tomorrow, our bloods marry after all:
maybe on a sword, or on a spread of bottom-land.
See you at the altar.
Tomorrow is home.
O, Earthling woman, freedom to your tongue. But sharpen useful things on Ramses’ doorstep. The sand of Djahi waits to drink our blood.
Fotya, my name, one chieftain of these ragtag Achaians, Argivi if you please—Fotya, a son of Melas The Black, ten fathers gone. I make no apology for a father like that, a hero who took everything his life could reach. No man lets another set his limits. That is Achaian way, even in southern precincts on the sea. We are all kings’ sons, even we whose fathers cut their first boats with Cretan axes.
The woman speaks ill of our fathers. It is Mother Ma-Ka we do not remember well, and from the first. In days before we Achaians had a word for The Great Green, the land that birthed us was far north. A land that was an ocean. She, was it Asia? Drove us from a paradise of pastures—turned on us, in a mountain of Her fire and ash. Her daughters’ second place is balm for that, and just.
Woman, we brought good horse south to Pelasgoi country and the sun’s little black-haired ones. But we were men, born to run the house. Your emmer wheat made Argos a place worth making ours, and holding to. Your daughters we gave proud husbands, Godfather King-Horse and His sons; Poseidon Earthshaker, Enyalios of War, Paiawon The Maker. So, masters we became of another paradise; and then there was a world across the sea.
Cretans followed dolphins to their home: no better, sure, than stallions we to ours. Cretans—shaven men, and strutting like the world was bowing at their boots. So what, a thousand years before our country. There was more to envy and to fight in our blood-brothers’ houses, and lions we became on the land’s strong places. War, we said, shakes the best from men’s days. So it was mother’s milk, my grandsire’s tale of taking Crete—a world of gold and women to be had, when the ash of Thera mountain brought her low. For that, look at me! Crackle with a laugh, like your daemon-brothers in our fire. Laugh, my hand is empty!
For that was our beginning, and where our end began. We plundered our teachers. Into The Great Green we pushed, and took where none could stop us. From your cities, islanders, and Cretans; from your cities, Carians; from your people, Shekelesh, and Trojans, home is waste. Laugh, at victory‘s wretched robe! My father’s land was by the great house Pylos, till his wars came home to burn it. Make me a ploughman. Enough of our dead haunt the sunshine.
Earthlings, take us back into the fold, if you can find it. For the woolly beaten brothers here I say, our slashers and our spears are at your sides. There come times to turn with the wind. It is to be sick of ourselves, sick of blood and smoke. Tomorrow bring us one good sleep or another. I have not slept since war made me a man.
Unashamed I tell Tehenu’s words. Some people say sister, brother, only when they are afraid. You, Pelasgians, Pulesati, masters of beasts you call ships, you said it to us from the first. You followed the winds of your birds and flocked south to us; and now we flock together, like your cranes. With Doku, this man, come a thousand Tehenu of Libya. Around us camp people of The Great Green northlands; and I, who saw Pharaoh’s men kill six thousand in a day, never have I stood among so many. Wealth of trade you brought our Olive Land; wives to make us cousins, and ways to bring our men into the world. Look at you now, kin of Minos, Achaians, Cyprians, Danaans!
I am here that my little girl Atana will not starve. Your paths meet ours in the basket of Pharaoh’s bread. You will see we fear nothing of the front line‘s knives: like birds we Libu fall and fill the sky again. No shields before our bodies, with sticking-spears and clubs we go in, naked. We are the hand-to-hand men, sons of The Nine Bows, who fight Kemeti of The Nile to standstill. Pharaoh’s men fight in gangs of four—each to keep the others from running away!—with heavy rods to break your arms and skulls. Last moon, grief: they bled us many friends. Not this one.
Our Lady‘s name is Dripping Rain: Ngame, Neith, Athena, the mother of our cattle, Who taught us homes we love to build down in the Earth. She came forth from Herself and birthed all living: my girl wears the pointed goatskin cap of Her devotion. We remember our sons at oar and sail with Labrys at the prow. We belong to each other, cranes, whose travel and secrets no men see, but they allow it.
Waste your lands must be to bring you here. How, great sisters and brothers? You burned the great trade kingdom Ugarit, and took from Hittite mouths the southern grain, and Khatti fell. Now Pharaoh trembles before you, who broke his great enemy. If we take his good Kemeti country for our farms, will you share the bread better?
What made our people bloodsport? Who took our young for slaves to move their stones? We push back, and Nile calls us animals. In Libu, the weak men steal. Who fetches home a wagonload of hands, and penises cut from battle dead? What gods desire these things, in halls of gold? Is it to comfort them, to tell them we are dead, although we live? Pharaohs. Men afraid to love the bride they so desire.
Our children starve, and smell Nile barley burned to spite us. Last time, by the blood of grandfather Merire, twelve thousand Libu broke at the edge of Memphis. In us at least, he fights fresh. Our Meshwesh cousins, here, made peace—putting spears to Pharaoh’s service. Are you sick now, kinsmen, of the crusts his table throws?
Raids make wives and cousins. But we had no cause to war, till he made his. Neith gave birth to Ra the very sun, and still in his blind eye, Libu fight to be men. Tomorrow, close and open it again! My girl lives hungry in an ox-cart.
Equals, the Qaraqisa say me Neos. Qari my kin, sons and daughters of Car, Who is the heart. Tomorrow, cousins, trust your flank to the horns on these helmets with moon and sun between. They come of days like Doku’s, with Mother Kriti on the island seas. Those days our harpers sing; of Leleges, the Twelve Isles and the Cyclades’ sailing-sons of Goddess law. Great Year in the sky. Still here. But before us, never more to win at once. For that we Qari sharpen axes.
The towns Car built along our seas bothered no one. Though Khatti, Pharaoh’s enemy, was hard across our Asian backs for constant tribute. They reached to drag our sons to every war they fought, in lands never theirs. We bought them off instead, and kept our heads down. Wealth is the sea. And still here, like Po-ni-ki-ja, Phoenicians.
Say of Qari, we lived through. When Strong One, Kriti fell, these Argivi and Ironheads got their free Achaian hand; to make us fear where they could not make war. Selah, each one of us tells the like.
The thought of fear that we accepted built us forts, and brought the rule of warriors isle by isle. We gave ourselves to war to keep them out, and we were theirs. Kin who hear me, what was right? Half our families sailed to save their young. In us, their sons, our old lands bleed; and generations-on, the pirate’s reach not far enough behind. What is left, but turn and stand.
My mother Qari to the bone, my father‘s fathers—Well, by your leave, let me sing it, as our house does every year.
Whence Norax? Cretan crane, he sailed to Cyprus,
and built with Car’s Miletus wealth of trade.
His daughters wove anew the ancient secrets
before the bearded cutthroats came to raid
Cousin Trojans, how many Qari died to help you? Say it, Achaians, our fathers’ axes taught you what your civil ones now confess. And then we were ready to help the thieves of Khatti into the dust. Good neighbors at our backs, they who swore to let us live for half our wealth. Such was the bond they chose to make with us. Them, Pharaohs worry no more.
So we come a thousand skirmishers. Orphans of the lands we broke and burned; of our own madness. It must be here! We bring good hands, that can fight and build, and solid seamen; daughters who can weave and plant and sing.
A man is more than a locust. That is all there is for us to say.
I kiss my mother Earth each dawn and dusk, that no lie pass my lips. I am Nush: eight hundred Meshwesh camped here call me mother. Let Doku say we live on Pharaoh’s crusts: no longer. His work is his rule. Tomorrow, cousins, watch Meshwesh javelins and clubs along our line.
This Libu name is yours for the tribes of us, west of Nile to Atlas’ shoulders. It was not we who changed, because we lived as the land taught us. Goddess made the world, pouring forth salt-blood. Three years and three moons Her nether-upsurge fountained from the deep; and every tiny thing She made, down to the mud, was Her. Neter, that even in the change of death makes life.
Kemeti people knew this. The sun fell and rose in Her arms, between the horns of their ancestors’ mountains. Why, then, did priests of Ra turn up their noses? The lords who sat in Isis’ lap climbed down, and turned their backs on us. Priests raised up stones that taught forgetting Her: their greed made royal right to plunder kin and cousin. Look what floods down-river now, gods Kemeti change with every king. They kiss the toes of statues till their grandsons knock them down, to put up new.
Their lords shot us like rabbits, yes, and robbed us of our days. The Nile’s good common people who remembered, the priests drove out, and wiped their footprints from The Earth. But from them, our mothers learned; contrived to send big Meshwesh sons to man royal forts along the western Nile. It taught us what it is to plough wild ground. This Ramses now thinks the figs of our oases fall for him. Doku’s Libu called us dung-beetles. So. Dung-beetles ride the flood.
No king made fools of Meshwesh. Generations our mothers pent up cattle, learned the olive tree. They fed Malkata palace tables good beef for Amenophis. Grandmothers round a fire sang us old Hatshepsut, mothering peace: her mother was our blood. Can you Tehenu here recall ten years before this Ramses we fight tomorrow, when Meshwesh put another kinsman on their throne? And here before your faces, we confess it: nothing changed. I have kissed The Earth. You proved right: we will always be dogs to them. Game.
Doku, your own lands fail to feed your daughter. It sent your fathers crawling to the feet of Merneptah. He gave you grain. When it stopped, you gave him war. So we were faced with fighting you, our blood, to keep our homes.
The fathers of that war came home to make us wiser. Now we fight alike for Libu’s girls. Let Meshwesh help; and all you build helps us. We are eight hundred clubs and javelins. No need to tell us who our friends are.
Good! Well-said, for a woman. I too have a kinsman here, if not a brother. And he, poor weary Fotya of the Argivi, told enough of gods. I speak of men before this fire.
We northmen—Ironheads, you say—wear an equal’s mock with pride! And we grieve, to hear a man talk of sleep with his beard still brown. We northerners are never so beaten as we look. When we are, you see us no more. What a pyre I will make, that no low thief nor a Hag’s birds pick my bones! A man should fight, or serve the best; otherwise, work, or die.
I am Pagos; son of Bom the holy might of Enyalios, red star, lord of war. Bom the son of Axios River, terror of the Pindus Mountains; and I Bom’s first-born, last of his eight sons, who all died hard. Our tribes are all kings’ sons, peers of the north wind, eyes blue between our locks. I can row across the wind three days to pick a fight; find water by the smell, good horse and woman too. A legion of my bastards carry comforts of my tents. My sword, the best of secret forges in the west, you see twined round the hilt with gold. Try us. Or, if your wits can murder, insults: you might live to drink me dry this cup, my kylix—the gold rim gives wine savor of ambrosia. All won with these arms town by island, my ten toes to death.
Gold in battle fetches men who strut their own: so every fight I die or strip a prince, and I never wash the gut-blood from my arms. The little brown slaves of Kemeti will scare, before our hacking-swords and heavy spears. We bring no horse or chariot now, but this you need not worry. Our harpers said it every song of those to whom we sailed to conquer: Their days are dust.
Our sires burned the last ports of Minoa. Wanderers we came to the ocean, wandering we love. Our grandfathers bodyguards, no less, to a Pharaoh gone mad looking only at the sun. And still no home we really want. What is home, a farm where you graze, staring at a grave? My father helped Mykenai‘s Agamemnon break the gate of Troy. Killed for pay in Libu’s battle to the west. Understand? Merire fetched us in with forty ships. Not half came out. So tested there, from Djahi likewise we will sail, when this storm of yours rains gold.
There is no quarter. And do not stumble in our sight. Curse us for Thapsos, Miletus, Cyprus too, and Ugarit our share. We do not say, gods rape likewise: gods are jokes, and goddesses the more. Thank us, that we tear the world from games that hide weak rules. Tomorrow thank our swords that sharpened yours.
Live, devour, shake the world. We come for spoil: it is enough for the men of us. The world’s only edge is our best blade. My name, my name, my name is Pagos, son of Bom—holy might of Enyalios, red star, lord of war.
This place is wild to me: the fire of our speaking feels like home. I am Veda, headwoman honored to speak for Cyprus Pulesati. We see many headbands feathered like our own, with quills of crane. It speaks a bond. Nothing else will stop the jaw-hook swords and axes of our men. Cousins, I am ninth daughter of Pyrrha, old family of Paphos, where Aphrodite rises from the waves. Our children were Her Graces, and they bathed Her, their Old Mother, every spring, and life was young again.
We have fought to fill our bellies day by day. Tomorrow? Where are the seeds of the garden? Cyprus was rich like any crossroads. In our cities gods and peoples met: they did more than meet in Aphrodite’s gardens, the houses of our mothers. Bonds, from blood to business, must go on: we bring more than weapons. Our motherlands are red Phoenicia’s cousins, Byblos, Tyre, Arados: they shipped us Canaan’s grain, these years of none. And now, though you Ironheads itched to take them, they will be there for us through our first hard plantings. If we hold together.
We call them men who sheathed their swords in The Lebanon. Him we call a man who just admitted, Crete was squandered. Your Achaian fathers changed old laws not understood. No more herbs by which women manage birthing; and soon, too many Achaian sons, and war their only bond.
Freedom without kinship? A delicate creature, Achaian way: one late snow, one early frost, and off they marched to raid their brothers to the husk. Their ways were failing when they took down Thapsos, in the west, where Pulesati towns had planted potters, artisans. In kind we burned their pirate-outposts on the coasts. So, so. Their Lion of Mykenai learned enough to build a lion-gate and walls. But not enough to change his dreams.
Then, Agamemnon. Resolute as fire to force his fathers’ folly on the world. He burned it like summer sun, and fell the same. Pagos, when Troy broke your fathers, you came to us refugees in arms, stealing, raising forts to guard your business on our land. From the isles, our sons sacked Pylos among many. Rains died, war, nobody planting; and here we are. Achaia’s Lion builds more wall, as if a wall is what he needs.
My sons and I have hated you; just like our mothers, who gave us your blue eyes. Such is Cyprus, such is Aphrodite, and Asherah the Lady who walks on the sea. Waves roll over us. We rise; and me surrounded now by ironheaded Graces.
You laugh well! In this fire men come out into the world. Hold together! Time will not change a day behind us. The garden is remembering we are in it.
We are Goddess’ fingers, sisters-in-law to the nations. None but She rule what we make of this.
I am not so refined. Tolema, woman of the Shekelesh; for sons whose swords buy power. Shekelesh way before battle is silence, till their death-name harrows through the foe. Friends, my two sons shout it with a thousand men: it panics ponies, stands the hair up on my neck. But them, count upon. Their fathers fought both sides, most Pharaoh wars. Now they fight for more than pay.
The learning of it cost. Too many sons of Sicily made livings out of wars, and that before the rape of Thapsos. They will not let you see them trembling; but I know many with dead limbs uninjured; who cannot speak, or sleep, beat little ones, drink poppy till they die. And so, on eve of battle, I give you my back—and first myself. Before The Dead here among us round this fire, I am ashamed, for the lives we waste.
As Pyx said, I remember; and that is the hope I have. Shall I tell of vine and olive Mother Kriti planted us, when Shekelesh went naked, picking figs? More like, you remember our Kokalos, who cut his way to kingship on that first wealth—Kokalos the Achaian shill. Who led our sons into pirating Mother Kriti’s trade.
When Labyrinth ships and law came hunting Kokalos, he broke their strength by treachery and luck. What Sicily got for taking sides with lions, you may guess. Gracious sister of the gardens of Cyprus: our mothers knew your reasons when you helped us. You sent us ships with potters’ wheels and artisans; and we cut pretty things in ivory for your trades. I stand here shocked to learn we have kin with these Danaans—one of those builders out of Cyprus was Podargos, Aktor’s brother! And a second time, I turn my back, to beg our Dead forgiveness. Why were we not content with wealthy peace?
No mother can make farms or shops shine brighter than gold. In travels with their trades, our sons caught the drunkenness of wealth in cities of the east—fools’ gold, got by war. Swallowed this they did, like a bass some shiny lure. And once the hook was set, was there a war they did not fight, one side, the other? They were not going to learn until life broke them, like kingdoms of the east. And those are dust.
We all fight feuds, and every house its fools. There were Shekelesh never did forgive the Cretans that first war, and left our island. Quiet, Shardana, till your say! Hear me! Ninety years we fought you, our own blood, if just to spite you in the Khatti wars with Pharaoh. Was it ten years after Kadesh that our mothers’ Thapsos burned, and your homes too, Sardinia?
Comes our turn to perish or lay both hands on one wise thing. Djahi, give us back our healthy sons.
Viri, to speak for Danaans encamped below. Our names, let them vanish like dew on the grasses of these dunes. Tomorrow we die with our teeth in the neck of your enemies. See, from this pouch, this feather of a crane. It is nine generations old, and four hundred of us wear the like: men who choose their tribe for reasons, over blood. Weighs nothing. Keeps our hearts alive. Let it go, the breeze takes it into the fire. We never have, we never will let go.
A tribe is the people you belong with: a tribe of heart or spirit, as of birth. Do you see the buskin-boots we wear, our women’s robes, the kohl about our eyes? We do it so that Goddess is the last thing foe-men see. Down with our blades come Snake and Griffin in the markings of our arms. She is our armor. The craftsmen with us make fine metal things, but White One is our shield. We laugh to hear our Achaian cousins’ hulking corselets: is it fear of Mother Night you drag all clank and clatter to the line?
In the first days, Danaans were a small tribe camped among Pelasgians. Marrying in, they learned. Their name meant White One, snake-mother of the rains. But Ironheads were coming south: thunder-gods, and strength of spears to plunder. Like Cretans, we let the winds bear us clear of harm. Set adrift like husbands of Danae with common foes. And Cyprus, with her reasons, made them cranes to the last refugee. Including Aktor, whom we call medicine father.
The world seemed broken-open to those tribes. Aktor’s father sacked a city which had helped them; a black crime against what feathers mean. To answer that, Aktor took arms: he gave up home and learned the sea, to fight the tide of men making choices like his sire’s. It was family and rage that dressed Aktor this way, in honor of The Lady, to spite and terrify. Women joined him, enchanters, Telkines: their young raised three good towns in Rhodes. And yet, the more we fought back, Achaia grew. Who else made Earthlings answer for what was once content to be alive?
Mother Night, come down! No man can know what killing men will make him. Our sins have summoned Her as much as weariness and prayer. Blood tomorrow, wash them from our hearts and so our hands. It is well, for tonight we see the Great Year way go on. Bad blood every side who eat together, work as one. The snakes along our arms bear the chevrons of White One, deeper than blood, closer than skin. We are you, kinsmen. This feeling thing, this fierce thing in my fingers is our bond.
Mothers, no fool hurts you and sits back to listen to the lay. The ashes of Achaia say so. White One, weigh our souls against this nothing in my hand!
Worotu. Chieftain of Shardana battle-line. The tales of you tell of sufferings conquered—and so many, weary of life?
Giants built the stone Nuraghi towers of our island. At twenty with my father, I Worotu shipped to feed the flames of Pylos. Not in hate: Achaians taught Shardana fathers war, and helped the rising of our kings. They used the well-paid swords of strangers like ourselves, because we had no qualms for hurting local people in their way, and kept off vengeance. Pylos faltered in the rules of its own game; and our homes, their survivors crippled to the crops.
Selah! Forty years, three hundred swords the kind men envy, and I Worotu wake up across a boat’s plank with my mate; the sky red over us, raid or trade our way to hunting-game, or island water. Shardana children in the hold call every beach home. Djahi, the sea has fish. Our thirst is not for water anymore.
Our fathers who abandoned Sicily were no shop-folk, clay lives spinning knock-offs of fine cups. War, Shardana’s fathers said, is one hazard of a will to live no limit. Drunk indeed! We choose the hardest honoring of seed-divine in us. Till now, I never said good and Shekelesh in one breath. But Tolema, and Veda too—under these dented plates sewn in my leather, in you I feel long strength. A home that can last.
Chieftains, you face the strongest army in the world. Stick close, Cyprians, Qari sick of war. You had better close your grip around good reasons. Ask our only fighting-peers, of Libu. Win or lose, nothing wears away the stone called Pharaoh.
For an age before Kadesh, Shardana earned The Nile’s gold, fighting sand-farer Sutu on a river of the east, called Jordan. For long-lived Ramses, too, we guarded Great House from his own. Talk, talk—Another Ramses will be master when our dead feed birds. No more gold. We have learned what is stone, what is sand and what is water.
Our mothers’ looms made Libu princes‘ garments. In western reaches of The Green we built trade in amber, and slashing-swords. Farm figs, feed them your tears! We like that Canaan country The Sharon, and mean to plant in the rot of its dead kings. Teach Ramses war, and Canaan’s Dor can berth our shipping south of Byblos.
Three grandfathers before Kadesh, families like your cranes were weaving nests there. Teach him his equals—and our trades grow as wide as The Green. If this is the way, Shardana come: we sleep like earth, on graves of men or in them. Tomorrow, brothers, more than gold.
Wilios, a priest of The Great Year: Wilios, named for Troy-town in your tongue. A Cretan name: my mother and my father, Troy’s last keepers of the dance of space and time. Look at me, old, bent. Why do four hundred javelins and swords send me?
You victors drink and stare and tremble: I talk for sons of warriors too, who wait the dawn beyond speaking. From the memory of defeat, we bring—contempt for victory. Fotya, our Achaian brother lives it. Better life his sons.
The Great Year dance of moon and sun, of light and shadow, is the harmony of circles. If those very powers of life follow laws, what is our excuse? Men who toss their anchors grow confused, and then afraid.
Troy grieved Kriti like a mother; yet, six generations we prospered by her lights. Our last queen’s headdress hung down drops of silver thicker than her hair. Black Sea river-gold. For trim, lapis out of Asia, blue like Mother Sea at night, and every water-cup a little spiraled vessel for an altar. When Achaians smelled wealth, we built our strength; but feud did not fetch lions to the door.
See how we failed. We closed the north to them, and used our straits for our advantage. And so Troy feared resentment, needed walls; certain, I assure you, we could handle what destroyed us. When councils let our kings rule more than a Great Year’s counted moons, our people’s ways broke off from that real world. Was one king, Priam, any better in the end? Our fathers bled ten years to save a wall. I buried that last headdress in it, when the measure of our greed smashed through the gate. We milked the Asian trade and liked the butter. King! An office built to fetch disaster.
Our families slaves, made nothings by a sword: no sweat of labor gave them back their souls. Achaians, we will never forget, nor forgive. But look at us. Tomorrow we all win, or lose. The way is in our hands. It saved Phoenicia from your blades.
There is no choice but laughter—Trojan blades at Achaian sides! Well, tomorrow blood we pour to resurrect our families. Oblige us in the ancient way, then. Remember the abandoned things that made us orphans here. Before our eyes, The Great Year turns in moon and sun, our anchor in this world. Return, return! A web of cousins equal. Fools leave now who lust for more.
Nobody walks away. I see no beaten people here. Maybe, you flea-bit pharaohs, a seed to plant.
Padi; as you see, a gray mother of the Lukka. The Turan of our chieftain, Chimaros The Flame, who sleeps now, poppy-drunk. Just between us? His life is one whole cloth of nerve and larceny. His name too has a Cretan touch: great ones, does that ring with your pardon-tales? Tell it to a pirate.
Before this fire, truth for truth. You bring us Lukka here to build your numbers. Knives you seem to have to help the poorest isle-folk now. Our skills will red The Nile again this year. Well, good children of Goddess law, a long nose blocks your eyes. Your sea-law made the Lukka hated, in the midst of your own crimes across The Green. Now you know what it is to do things you hate for the sake of your children.
Lukka laugh at big words, like the pennants men fly on their war-wagons: they flap more wind than the ponies. Our camp sent me, I confess it, as a mock. But we too loved our lands along the sea. Cousin Neos, we remember Khatti, back when Hatti was their Mother of the Sun. Same story. Tell it to a pirate! Their fathers threw down Goddess and her daughters, put up stone-beard statues of themselves—and marched on us, for our last sheep and sons. We Lukka too learned blades in Khatti’s front lines against Pharaohs. Out of that, our elders had a new choice: keep bleeding for Hatussas, starve in hidden places; or, bury regret, and take for ourselves as others take.
We waited our time, like you sons of Car. Kadesh wore out the arms of Khatti’s fathers, and we turned on them with relish. Blood-justice and a new right to steal. Puh! Brought us where? Homes of flame, our mouths big words, our bodies criminals.
Now you understand this intolerable camp of children’s eyes. Yonder! a fat ship riding low with grain, wine, metals: great ones, you were nobler in your pain? Chimaros sleeps drunk to numb his dreams. Dress your idols as you like.
I know the wrinkle in my boy’s smile when he hurts. The color of my girl’s hair is an oak-leaf in the seventh waning moon. Mothers and fathers, what will you lay upon the mountain’s bleeding-stone? Listen.
No offering we make can match what must be won tomorrow. But those with nothing yet can give most dear. To Gi, Pytogayah, a little one. Mine.
Our sisters hide their faces in their palms. They know what is torn from us in hope. Tribes they come from, men will weep, and have no tears at Djahi.
Furze-face chieftains, show the sun what you can offer. Eh? Go on, then, brother pirates! Cat-call, clang your cups, howl the holy curses! How many children wasted on your altars to yourselves?
A wind of the sea ...
–Are you mad? Burn Knossos Labyrinth? Your family’s house! Then what!
–Clod-hopper, wait outside awhile! The cry of his reviving just went out, let a man get his breath. Crowned by lightning, and good as dead he was, three days
High shrill voices trilling on the air above the town, and down the mountain: Ol-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo
–Pardons, then, and welcome home, our brother! I go, awhile. But we wait, old priest, the town and the men of this stronghold. So, open brother’s eyes. Ask him what it meant that lightning blew him off the altar, the moment he swore such a criminal thing to people’s faces
That was the first I heard, coming to again. A man now, older by five hundred winter suns, beginning to end. Who leaves this burnt offering as the body of a hope, to understand what happened from that waking day
It is to begin with how I began: blood-wrong. From that day, fed up and finished with thirty years’ malingering exile on a mountain we called The Nail, in our own country. Stronghold had turned into prison. It was time to push back. It was winter solstice and my skin stretched me out there like an X in a mountain box-bed, crawling and arching, a scorch-cracked and prickly snake in slough. My hand found the hem of old Makris’ deerskin garment, where women had stitched in tiny running spirals
–Come to your house, Makris new-moon smiled as he intoned from a ceremony song, and his long fingers spidered my limbs like a midwife’s. –Come to your house, Sweet Wine, Dionysos, true of speech
Begin to remember, and the last great question puts the tail in the serpent’s mouth. The bolt of flame that struck me off the altar—Was that the sport of nature which turned me into one? I never did discover what paused for so long the wheel of changes in my body, which had borne the name Deucalion into those days of middle life. Gift, or curse, this took two generations even to realize, and after that it was trouble every turn
What held me in a man’s strong healthy forties through the lives of twelve children of the families? The same mystery by which this hand now falters, faster than crocus. What began to try rising from the bed that day, so long before I learned, was the fury in the craving of a man to live in honor of his dead. To follow them and live them; and like them to annihilate the childish, the sick and the dead within himself. There in the bed before everybody a shiver of corpse-revulsion shook me—to cut loose the dead and to live them in my turn
Judge for yourself what a gift twelve lifetimes proved, what gifts I made of them for others. The bee gathers nectar as he can, before the hive drives him out. Yet, in the end, this I gather most to the honor of three women. Three flowers who, three times, returned this man from monstrous ashes
My little stone house with its east-west windows was a yellow haze of beeswax and burnt dittany. Out of the gloom like a lying-in or funeral stood a dozen familiars, mountain people and kinsmen of the town gazing in a group, some with a vigil’s flute, drum or censer in their hands. The little ones wrapped in goatskins, men and women in hard prime, elders and cousins all lifted their palms out to me, each a sign of sun and moon and soul on the ancestral mountain. But their faces were all the one old smile of this place, a smile with a nail in it
They saw yesterday’s man still: Deucalion son of Pasiphae and Minos. Ariadne’s beaten brother. The last son of Dikte to reach and to fall from the Knossos throne. So did I sharpen new moon horns behind my eyes, and show them Minotaur
Now they remembered the man last alive—at the altar of our mountain in a thundering winter rain, with Labrys the great double-winged axe out high on the air. The words exploded like the sky: Knossos will burn! And Crack!
It was no call for war. We lived on the mountain because we understood our enemies’ hope, that we should live like them according to it. Blood, yes. Three of the mothers with sons to lose now drew up over me along the bedside, and with bright eyes warm and steady, piously lifted the garments from their breasts as they sang Makris answer: Seam, undo yourself! Honeyed voices luring men back into the world
Finished, their faces waited like stones: You were in the other world. You have come back. Tell. Tell
–Where are we, I said
–Why, Deucalion, this is home. Karphi. We’re home, Makris answered, nodding bright false cheer around the chamber
–Home. Is it. Be careful, priest I heard praying, true of speech. Sisters and brothers, I go to my house. I go through my house, to the end of this living as an outlaw. With any of you, or all, or none. This Nail is not our home!
[TO BE CONTINUED]
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