David Mason • In Priene

When the old man climbed to the acropolis
he heard the blackbirds caroling in pines.
The local market hummed with business
as he passed by in narrow, marbled lanes.

He had not come this way for many years.
The slaves and women gazed at him, looked down
and stepped aside. He bore the scars of wars,
limping a little as he scaled the town.

Now no one in Priene knew his name
or knew he’d seen a Punjab elephant,
fierce people of Peshawar and Bagram,
then homeward caravanned to the Levant.

He turned west on a still-familiar lane,
knowing it led to a brow above the sea
where he watched bright waters range and rearrange
in ranks as regular as infantry.

And he was tired, his friends and lovers dead,
his children scattered, speaking other tongues.
Though he was home, he did not own a bed,
his only welcomer the blackbird songs.

The sun bled richly in the waves, the smoke
and grease of cooking fires came over him
just as the army used to bivouac
and offer to the god a suckling lamb.

The city like some half-befuddled dream
sank into night, though its activity
went on behind his back—almost the same.
He’d come this far to listen to the sea,

and if he could, forget the emperor
who followed Dionysus to the east,
and would have, if he lived, desired still more,
but died as pitiably as any beast.

David Mason’s verse novel, Ludlow, won the Colorado Book Award and was named Best New Poetry Book by Contemporary Poetry Review. He wrote the libretto for Lori Laitman’s opera, The Scarlet Letter.