Poem: The Protagonist

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Poem on martyrdom and suffering

Go then,

Slave, born unto a slave born unto a slave,
Your ageless skin scorched brown, lacerated, (oh!! the oozing sores!), 
caked in your own filth and excrement:
your matted hair, and beard sprinkled over with
Fine white sand; the skin of your hands and feet thick
with calluses, your eyes staring out of sunken sockets
Like glowing embers! Hateful!
You, who have carried your chain for miles, dragging its mark
Across the flaming desert,
Under the bullwhip of your masters. You, who are
Deeply digging away with picks and crowbars
and iron wedges
at the navel of the subterranean beast,
digging along the marble ridges in the secret internecine
Twists and folds of the pitch-black stone slope on
the steepest edge of the plateau,
Hammering out layered ribbons of gold
From the congealed darkness:

Go then!

Rise out of the dunnest smoke
that clouds the unknown heart of hell
in the white-hot deserts of Nubia,

And explode

into the feral maw of the amphitheatre.
Look around you:
high up there in the packed galleries, the splendid men, and
their gorgeous women waving silken kerchiefs,
Clad in dazzling raiment, their jewels winking
in the sun, that with unblinking gaze pours forth its fire
from a cauldron of deep cerulean hues.
Hear them roar in unison! Deafening, like a monstrous ocean,
clamoring for your blood. Their eyes are tongues,
Their faces, all teeth, hungering for a bite of your
Flesh. Small wonder, for they have paid for both,
And soon both will lie there, butchered
and spread out thick on
the hard-packed sand of the arena.
Look at her, a noble lady, reclining on 
a couch in her cavea, her head inclined
Like a Cimabue Madonna. Devouring with her eyes,
your well-oiled, sculpted body, your organ
Hanging out in full display, her lips parted,
her breath panting hard – she’s already in
the paroxysms of her pleasure.
(Your own orgasm comes later when you’re
On your back with your guts spilled out, in the rising smell
of your blood gushing forth 
In boiling streams from your sliced up
belly gaping up at the sky.
But of course, you knew that already!)

Go then, naked,

Out into the ring, as every mother’s son, fresh
out of the womb.
You, a slave, but a slave like no other.
A man, but a man like no other, with
generations of timeless toil embedded in your bones,
and the lightning dancing in your feet,
you have mastered living where death brings blessed relief!
You, who have trained in the killer’s trade,
Earning fortunes for your owners,
Who are you? What do you see?
Will you be the protagonist,
The one who sets in motion strange, impossible
Works, that once begun
will stretch forth into space and time,
towards a history yet unborn,
and grind to a halt the juggernaut
that crushes the many under its wheels,
wielded by the hands of
the powerful few? Will you be the
One who brings the 
greatest power in the world to its knees, 
Nay, destroy the world itself, if need be?
Or will you be 
Cut into little pieces, smoked, 
minced, mixed with pork 
and exotic spices and 
Stuffed into sausages?

Hark! the drums roll and the trumpets blare!
Now must commence, with flourish and fanfare
(Are you ready?)
the play of the deadly swords, diabolically curved,
(They split the skin with the slightest flick!),
The duels, the long, grisly gashes, the flowing
Blood, the dismemberment, the skill,
(Are you prepared to be the gift?)
the agony of bowels ripped out and
the ecstasy of blazing motion!
(The munera sine missione?)
Like a rush of autumn breeze ‘twixt the branches
of bald graveyard cypresses,
(The gift without mercy? The fight unto death?)
A bitter-sweet aching sigh passes through the crowd,
(Are you ready, slave…)
as they wait, quivering like leaves, for
(…to set the world on fire?)
The Games to begin!

Image courtesy: Pixabay

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