I. Last Monologue of King Kashyapa in Which He Praises His Finest Work, 5C
“My city is guarded by five hundred goddesses,
each one is a jewel dug from clay.
No one sees the goddesses without desire.
A man may be lost forever
dreaming of their pale red mouths and blue shadows.
I have built a city near to heaven.
My enemy will never understand.
They were my harem.
From villages I saved them, from the underworld
beneath the trees; mothers and fathers gave them to me freely.
The maidens praised the artists who captured them
in frescos on these high cliff walls.
Praise me: I have made them immortal.
My home is this city near to heaven.
Goddesses: protect me from my enemy!
A man may be lost forever dreaming of his enemies.
Watch over me, o goddesses,
I have built my city to rival heaven.”
II. The Defacement, 1967
A monk looks at the ancient frescoes—
he feels a pulse
fast as the blackout
The almost naked
goddesses, platters of mango
about to fall from slender fingers
A goddess’s smoky chime of bangles,
her nipples like orchids
in wet heat
Someone calls to him, he believes, a bhikkhus,
master from the sacred ranks of monks,
the ONE among many
From the pail, he lifts a heavy broom and sweeps—
smothers us whores with tar
Swallows, too, foul the rock face with streaks
III. The Goddesses’ Song
we goddesses we dance with birds
we are the words written on leaves
we are gods mothers of gods
we mother we give birth to the gods
we are gods’ eyes
lovers come closer here with us forever
we are your sisters flow of water of leaf
we are your lovers rain leaf rice
read us arm breast belly
sail with the swallows our eyes your eyes
below us you who made us
you who read us we are fresco we are rock
you preserve us do not deceive us
we live forever do not defile us
call the swallows shade our witness
call the wind night protect us
the rain blows in night oh protect
the sun beats and rock protect us
god’s eyes flute drum chime
our names rain rock rice
Abigail Wender’s poetry and translations have appeared in The Cortland Review, Disquieting Muses Quarterly, Epiphany, Kenyon Review Online, New Orleans Review, and other journals and anthologies. Her translation of a selection of Iris Hanika’s Das Eigentliche (THE ESSENTIAL) was published in Asymptote. She is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and lives in New York City.