new zealand electronic poetry centre

Michael Harlow


online works

 

Xenophon’s Dog

If you look through this telescope what can you see? You can see a man and a dog, you can see what they are doing.
     You can see Xenophon in the garden of his country house. He is tilting a wine-bowl; from its lip the dark, scented wine splashing to the earth – how, after all everything is connected to everything else, would he believe otherwise? No. His best wine for his favourite tree, already old in the time of his parents this spirit-tree, cypress, dark as onyx. There are those who say on quiet evenings you can hear the voices of unborn children in it rising skyward.
     And the dog? The dog is waiting; in the cool shaft of the tree she is waiting for the hands of Xenophon to reach into the slant shadows to touch her forehead.
     If you look close, you can see that only yesterday there were visitors. Xenophon’s friends calling to make a request, to pay their respects: in a finely turned jar with laurel collar, the light-filled honey of Hymettos, sacred mountain of bees; rich, dark amber form the north. They were vexed for names. It is true they are men of words, rhetors, men of the city and the assembly, but at a loss to name the dogs of their estates. Their tongues are dumb. Could he perhaps in his love for his own compile a list?
     Xenophon, one of the Ten Thousand at the head of the long march, a man of stories, and piety, but a puritan – no; nor a metaphysician who would think the body a prison-house for the soul: that word again, on everybody’s lips, from highbreasted flute-girls with chattering bracelets to slaves with tattoos on their foreheads. And, why not? After all, the living-self. Then – how they smiled, and marvelled to see that Xenophon did not hesitate, did not flinch, did not pause even to put Psyche at the top of his list.
     Now, if you look carefully, you can see that they are alone. Xenophon is picking up a stick in his right hand. And the dog? The dog is waiting at the edge of the lake. Now, he is hurling the stick with his writing hand far out into the water. And the dog? Yes – you can see the dog paddling across the lake to the other side.
     Finally, if you look through to the end, you can see, yes, you can see yourself: waiting there for the dog to arrive.

 


From Giotto’s Elephant (John McIndoe, 1991)
Michael Harlow
 


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Last updated 24 March, 2005