Twirl your umbilical cord around your fingers, play it slimy betwixt the fore and middle, slipping that rude sign with the latter towards God, and now lay it out before you. Tie it in such a way that were one end affixed high up and the other dangled low, sweet chariots, that upon nestling brackish hair and gaunt sweat-stricken face within its glistening bosom it would enhalo you and beatify your personage and then if you kicked the stool out from under your feet crammed into scuffed sneakers it would cause your death by hanging at the neck.
Yours and mine end is all the same in that it is finite and unceasing, you are and aren’t at once, so kneel before a great pool and drink lest the deer/god bid you not and refract your consciousness backwards, although in an important way you haven’t moved at all. Feel the cold water drip down your throat and blink your eyes to the great edifice, the essence of sublimity, Darius the king of kings engraved looking down at the liar-kings, his foot on the neck of one more bound in serene servility beneath. Pick up your chisel, you who have been fingering darics together in cloth-bound pocket booming and empty, and continue your work. Idle is a luxury the dying-ceaseless can ill afford: BEHISTUN.
Upon virgin edifice yourself and a team of workers encroached bidden into its bedchambers to rape its placid face via stoneworking tools, tossing its dust and cast-offs like crumbs brushed from the breakfast table absently as you watch lurid Minecraft tutorials on your phone with the other hand. Maybe you are tied by rope but maybe not, maybe you stand on a kind of scaffolding. These are the details which are lost in my gut somewhere, bubbling in pools of stomach acid, irrevocable to you but of course also never truly forgotten, your common inheritance.
Now, as summer sun beats down upon your tanned brow and you float, maybe? above the road below, you feel a tinkle of pride that travelers will admire your work. But, you think as your hand etches out Faravahar, not too devoutly but it is not your god after all you foul blasphemer, only that of debased Persian kings ensconced in rugs and gold diadems and cups and harems, you think that you will be remembered and this is folly. Not even Darius will be remembered; in only a few centuries the likeness glowering evil with blood dripping down clenched teeth amongst whores of Pasargadae in noble rule will be mistaken for various Sassanid kings or a Babylonian queen or by particularly moronic Europeans for Christ himself, surrounded by his apostles.
Upon the road to Cunaxa, enrobed, you have been obliged to serve in the army of your king Artaxerxes and yet, as your feet chafe in your boots rubbed raw by heavy footfalls in concert with a few tens of thousands of your fellows, it is your prerogative as noble, or, say, noble-ish. This is your desserts for lounging in your estates and squabbling over property and feting the court on its circuit as blowhard honored guest, to struggle against the wicked would-be usurper Cyrus and his band of savage mercenaries from the far-flung Aegean corner of the empire.
A trivial view of history is to make equal all men who swim and tread water and drown in the stream of time, and yet you yourself are a different species then you were then. Does your life now mean anything to you then? Idly reading an article on your phone while folly-drunk Mithridates casts his portentous javelin towards the royal fleshly corpus of Cyrus. Harbinger of rebellion though he maybe he is of royal blood and his triumphant smile as his victims’ black emittance splatters out into the dirt wanes as he looks over his shoulder and sees the expression on the crooked face of his lord. Better him than me, you think as you wring your spear like a mop in the stomach of a Greek, for lo the royal-killer has robbed Artaxerxes of his due and for it he will be killed by scaphism, or at least, this is what Plutarch tells us. It all lobs under the weighty name descending herky-jerky by stage-rope on winged cupid: apocryphal.
Near the waters of the Tigris now, ancient bird spluttering in your ear, boatmen stuck giant pole deep down into the banks, the sun is perturbed. Near the administrative center and paradise drift we, over wafts of air billeting nasty dust in between our teeth as we grin stupid smiles at each other across the centuries. Here is Opis, your teeming home, already now (though you will be dead by the time it comes to bear) shivering under the mighty shadow of ISKANDER.
Here we find the paradise garden, enclosed most importantly by four long walls, acres of land watered with pleasant canals and fountains and reflecting pools. You are, say, a boar, tusks grim and hair knotted in greasy locks over your pit-black eyes. When they look at you they see pure animus but you have your tender side, too.
You imagine yourself free because your habitat is all you know and it mimics through careful prudence and the handiwork of slave-gardeners levied at the capitulation of Bactrian rebels the wilderness, unabated in its fervor in a way your garden lacks, though it is through no fault of your own that this ineffable distinction escapes your slavering hog mind. The hunt bears down on you and you fear it. But this fear is an error in calculation because you imagine it a live issue, you imagine dodging the death-blow a possibility because you have made the tragic mistake of thinking the paradise walls to be the edge of the world.
The hunt is, of course, a formality and highly ritualized. Just like poor Mithridates on the sun-baked plains of Cunaxa one shivers to imagine taking the prize kill from the guest of honor. It is a formality because you are already inside the paradise, and juices salivate at the beauty indeed. Not for your sake is the pristinity of the garden maintained, no, but you can enjoy it reasonably well should you avoid being speared by a nobleman on horseback as raving dogs lather at your heels.
The terror germinates, truly, from the mistake you have made in thinking that moment your death, when in reality, you were born dead already by virtue of coming to be here, ‘neath frolicking palm fronds planted in just such a way. The tragedy is it never occurred to you to wonder at their straightness and regularity, you just thought that’s how trees grew.
You propose, to your fellow boars and the odd lion that is brought, the noblest game, the outlines of reform that would make the paradise more hospitable with which you could petition the king without realizing that its entire function is as a hunting ground. It is designed to facilitate your death, it can’t be reformed because that is its essence, a machine fine-tuned to kill you. You put your phone down and shake your head. Thank god that’s not your condition any longer, eh?
Now the tetrarchy folds into itself and we neatly prepare the final chapter for inundation in your mind-eye. The water is nearly forgotten now, cold it once was; memory now. You drank and that was your choice but of course, you will repress it once we reemerge into your twenty-first century cell. I am with you, always, though you dash my presence from your shoulder like a child embarrassed and enraged by his mother’s embrace.
Grip the plow in your hands and feel the woodgrain pulse repulsive in your hand like grim death. Billeted here under Sogdian winds are you, simple farmer, lost from my rolls like all blessed subaltern and serf and proletarian, dust on the record of great men swept by rasping knuckles. Before you is the sown field and you rest for a moment, it stretches out before you and you pick up the staff and lean against it, blinking flies away from your face. Here in the unwritten acreage life goes on much the same as it will for you, now, anonymous and yet universal.
Your gaze blanks to the west, rising up the crest of the shallow hill and there, at the ridge, stalks of wildflowers drifting against their mounts’ ankles, are Scythians. Wild in saddle and wrapped in robes with bows drawn and a cold blue fire burning ‘neath their brow and their horses whine and you stay still and you and they stare at each other from a distance of, say, three hundred yards and the wind caresses their cheek and in them you see all of a sudden a distortion of your life and all of a sudden you feel manacles on your wrist and you hear the rattle of whispered chains and on them you see no strings, but they are there, they’re just tied to a puppeteer who doesn’t deign to move them for some time, centuries, but you can’t see them and they don’t know of them either and they seem like aliens or God upon horseback noble and upright backs against the biting wind, bows drawn taut by sheepgut and you imagine your frame bouncing on a horse’s backside as you let twang an arrow from bow and set fire to thatched huts and paint crimson the dirt with men’s blood and sit round campfire in unending oceanic steppe, that great void wherein I cannot trod but you could, unbound, you could stay there for quite some time, not forever, but long, and you could linger under moonlight in titanic plains from east to west to north to south and you could seize it with your teeth and be free from it all. Quiet, did you hear? Is that the footfalls of ISKANDER?
Theodore Sovinski is a writer living in Columbus, Ohio. His work has previously appeared in Queen Mob's Teahouse.