The Poets of Isbarakhaid

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#1
While I continue to work on writing and revising the two sf/f stories I have in mind, I've decided to turn my attention to something outside spec fic, short pieces that are more or less abstract in nature but meant to entertain in a way, inspired by some of my favourite literary writers. Here is one of the lesse unsuccesful fruits of this endeavour:

The Poets of Isbarakhaid

Startling finery.

Deprived of all but the abstract, they strew the borders of their lives with spirals, lines, circles, squares, arcane cryptograms, colour and texture.


Nothing must be made to represent anything else. This poses a serious obstacle to literacy, to language itself.


How are they to speak, when the words are representations of objects, people and thoughts? How are they to write, when the text represents words?


They create an intricate labyrinth of allusion, metaphor and random association.


Their speech is lapidary. Their curses are ice-pick stabs of shimmering contention. Their love poetry is an ornate flower bed of honeyed misdirection and sting-tipped kisses.


Gnothic sun of inflamed sophistry, we cast the shade of fine silken noose rings upon your daughter's southern-facing courtyard parapet.

An invitation to a ritual beheading? An invoice for a shipment of dried olives? An obscene suggestion to the editor of a poetry review? Given the right context, these words could serve any of these purposes, and others as well.

It is from the shade and surface of the note paper, the colour of the ink, the width of the nib, the slope of the writing, the cachet of musk secreted in the envelope, the hour of day at which the missive is delivered, the height and disposition of the messenger, that the recepient divines the meaning of each communication.

The rich have soothsayers to interpret the daily news to them.

Sudden reverses in the inner ocean. A tidal supremacy, fleeting frisson of water sprites. Balm soothes the sores, an evening sky will bring rain. Seek the third why.

'It is nothing sire, merely another princeling overthrown by his rival. If the scroll had arrived a minute later it may have signified war and rapine, if it had been delivered by a left-handed spice gatherer with a capuchin monkey on his right shoulder it would have signified a death of many great men in the central provinces. But it means neither of thse things, merely an outland skirmish, a changing of guards you need not trouble yourself over.'

The poor stammer and rhyme in the presence of their superiors, but have a parsimonious sub-vocabulary of blasphemously direct words for their private conversation.

'Hairy ears, bath water, hot, pronto!'

'Much fury, home torn, bad time.'

'Sweat and dreams sickness, get herbalist, now!'

'Mother fine, still limps but healing.'

The priests fancy that their labyrinthine orisons to the Seven Princes of Heaven are the very pinnacle of this verbal maggotry, but they are wrong, as usual. It is the merchant class, with their need to convey very specific items of data while maintaining an appearance of respectable incomprehensibility, who have taken this enforced art of abstraction to its highest development.

They send each other poetry, slim folios of modern verse perhaps, imprinted in verdana regular, point 8 on sheets of grey A3 paper, and the font, the colour and the paper convey the real message with a precision that the logomantic seeings of the soothsayers can never equal. It is an exactly catalogued code, one that each merchant guards with his or her life, for if it were to fall into the hands of the priesthood, a great inquisition and much flame and death would surely ensue.

But if the real subject matter of these works of poetry is encoded in its production specifications, the poetry itself is no mere window dressing, no lorem ipsum of dummy text. The merchants of Isbarakhaid are its true poets, men of the material world startled into bardic eloquence by the accidents of time and culture.

Startling finery.

Deprived of all but the abstract, they revel in it. They live double lives, half mad with divine inspiration and financial acumen.

They are sellers of wine and meat, grain and fabric, glass and metal, they are insane singers on the edges of the meaningless.

They are like any poet, in any time and place. They are utterly unique. Someday I shall collect their furtive verses and bring them back to these more civilized lands for theedification of our scholars and aesthetes.

But first I must immerse myself further in the ways of this strange place. They allow none of their writing to be taken outside its boundaries, fearing to expose their divinely ordained crypticisms to blasphemous heathens. I shall have to tarnish the glow of the eastern sunrise from my salt kissed brow.

I shall wade placid like a milking calf into morasses of alien mores. The daughter of the moon shall consume a beautiful city of lights and sounds. Beyond description will be the cries of those who strum the chords on their lying lyres. Tidal supremacy. A fleeting benison.
 

Brian G Turner

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#2
Nice work - you can see this forming part of a larger story - a background piece, or other section of a story. Reminds myself of some of the shorter works in Neil Gaiman "Sandman" series - which can only be a good thing. :)
 
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#3
I like that. Then again I would; this piece you've written is quite anthropological, whether you have intended it to be or not. Am I correct in reading the final paragraphs, that your narrator finds himself caught in the net of their abstractions? Is he on the cusp of (as it used so quaintly to be put) "going native"? "But first I must immerse myself further in the ways of this strange place" certainly seems to indicate this.

This is really good, IMO. I can see all sorts of possibilities.:)
 
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#4
Thanks.

The narrator is indeed going native. But Isbarakhaid will defeat him in the end.

I was inspired by a few different things, and for no reason other than that it's interesting to see where ideas come from I'll list them.

The middle part of China Mieville's Iron Council shows an advance surveyor from a rail road company getting absorbed into the ways of the native tribals his employer's enterprise will dislocate. Their ways are utterly alien, but he achieves a certain immersion. Another book, Peter Carey's My Life As A Fake shows an Australian gone native in Malaysia. This got me thinking about intersections with alien cultures, how an expatriate is ultimately neither fish nor fowl as it were, perfectly at home neither in his adopted land or his homeland. Paintings from the western Orientalist school exposed me to a lush, romaticised Near East that probably existed mainly in the imaginations of Europeans. Arabic culture of course forbids representational art. Being a word man, I wondered how this would effect language in its turn. Stir it all up, bring to a simmer,add a dash of some glaringly obvious literary influences and hey presto!

Now imagine my explanations if I ever write a full-length novel. :p
 

JoanDrake

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#6
Pretty in parts, I couldn't really tease out a whole lot of meaning but some passages were really lyrical. I especially liked the paragraph that began with "It is nothing sire..." For some reason I'd like to see that expanded into a story
 

The Judge

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#7
Since Jayaprakash posted this over 14 years ago, I'm pretty sure he'll have moved on from this piece. To avoid anyone else spending time and effort on a critique which isn't needed, I'll close the thread.
 
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