Saturday, October 31, 2009

367. The Last Sultan

There are noises without, yet I fear them not
they are as nothing to the voices within.
I have grown old and ill, all in a single season
facing the disposition of the Empire.

My sons are fools, my wives little better
engaging in shoddy political manoeuvres
as if I were deaf and blind. I expected
as much, could have pretended not to mind

had they not been so greedy and thoughtless
so shallow and unkind. I find I resent the way
they considered me deaf and almost blind
as I fear they will soon discover, when they pay

with their lives. X and Y and Z must die
their extended families to be sent into exile;
four of the more strident concubines
will be silently, expertly, painlessly strangled

dispatched, after time for prayer, with silken cords
in the traditional manner, as befits their station.
God, I think, will not be listening : solemnly
we shall uphold the standards of the nation.

Many of the servants must be executed
by simpler means, and the rest thrown into prison:
let a frisson of fear run through the land.

This is all to the good. We do so little for the people
as it is, they enjoy a bloodletting of their betters;
it seems to loosen the clamp of the iron fetters
that bind them in taxation, sends their sons to war.

I learned this from Grandfather, whose great-Grandfather
conquered this kingdom from the back of a horse.
Kingdoms are not ruled from the back of a horse
he said, you need to bring in Christians and Jews,

educated people: doctors, scholars and artisans.
You need to keep a stern rein on your own people,
the bluff warriors and dangerous partisans. As a child
I listened: power is what the old man taught me.

Bluff warriors and dangerous partisans: I chuckle
mirthlessly. Grandfather, you have only to see
your gaggle of descendants, those coming after me

to agree, readily, to my stringent course.
They must die or else be sent away: I shall only spare
young boys who can ride a horse.