Paradise Lost/Requiem for Bequia 2013

(For those of us who remember)

Mount Pleasant tanks were

unencumbered  then.

Tola’s donkey cart

brought Christmas up the hill.

Estelle baked fresh loaves of bread

in an oil drum by Mrs. Taylor’s.

The Friendship Rose

was a real sailing ferry,

and Sam McDowell painted her

into posterity.

 

There were few roads  then,

most places were hard to find,

like Hope and Ravine.

Outsiders built simple homes

that did not alter the fragile balance

between us and them.

 

Now the price of land has

driven that balance away.

It’s the wild, wild west out there,

build where, how, and when you like!

Diesel trucks screech wildly around corners

carrying  loads of concrete, cement blocks, stones

that spill randomly onto the roads.

They blow their horns

from one end of the seven mile island to the other

to catch the one oclock ferry.

They belch out poisonous fumes

which give the local kids asthma.

There’s an epidemic of it here.

 

Cars overrun the small, narrow roads

Mashing up de concrete.

Piles of foreign garbage

flood the small, finite, landfill.

 

And I believe the people’s paradise

 is close to being lost,

the one I knew,  gone forever.

The precious Bequia way of life,

fragile, irreplaceable

and to be envied,

now perhaps a mere reflection

in the rear-view mirror of time.

Mangos and Avocados

 

Mangos, thick, exotic,

hot, ripe, orange fruit

Stick to your teeth.

Everywhere, hanging

from the trees.

Big as hands and feet.

Burst open,

rotting, covered with flies

on the ground,

and the smell

so sweet, so sweet.

 

Avocados, buttery

peel off the skins

eat them whole like apples.

Nothing like those

pale yellow things you get up North.

Taste like thick, rich dairy cream,

smother your tongue,

coat your throat,

you can’t stop eating,

it’s a short season!

The Irony of Life and Violence

 “That sounds amazing! Wow that’s what it’s all about! It should be a day of love for everyone 🙂 may it be blessed!”  These are the words of Reeva Steenkamp today just before she got shot to death.   Whether it was an accident or an intentional homicide she makes another case against gun violence.   If it was intentional it is another case of violence against women.   Join Eve Ensler today 1 billion rising – end the chain. http://www.vday.org/home

Your Daughter Tastes Like Fish

Chung He and his wife Dae live in Sinuiju on the banks of the Yalu River. Yalu is its Chinese name and means “duck green” which refers to its color. The river’s Korean name, seldom used, is Amnok and means boundary between two countries. The Yalu borders China and the town of Sinuiju where Chung and Dae live. Sinuiju is opposite the bustling Chinese town of Dandong.

The river remains frozen for four months of the year November through February. It is bordered by forests which are full of wolves, tigers, jaguars, bears, foxes and wild boar.

Chung is a poor fisherman who ekes out a living on his daily catch of carp and eel, which he is obliged to share with the border guards who let him fish in certain spots on the river all perilously close to the Chinese border. He has a daughter named Bong-cha who is seven years old. Bong-cha accompanies Chung on his daily fishing trips. She is tall for her age and skinny since she, like most North Koreans, suffers from malnutrition. They live on their small boat which is moored on the side of the river not far from the town.
It is about twenty feet long, made of wood painted a light grey in color. It has a tiny cabin constructed of sheets of corrugated metal nailed together in a haphazard fashion. The family sleeps in this 5 x 5 space, their bodies pressed together to keep out the cold that comes creeping in slyly through the cracks. The smell of fish seeps into everything and permeates their thick blue cotton suits and covers the skin underneath their clothes with its relentless odor. They have a small potbellied stove which barely keeps them warm during the day, since much of what they burn are tiny pieces of wood scavenged from the banks of the river.

Their diet consists of the small amount of fish they manage to keep after paying out some in bribes to the border guards, and selling some in the market in the center of Sinuiju. With the money they earn from these sales they buy tiny amounts of rice, sugar, salt and tea. Vegetables and fruit are an unknown luxury and something Bong-cha has rarely tasted if ever.
We come upon Chang and his family in 1995 the year that marks the middle of the great famine. As the years of the famine progress, all of the fish that Chung and his family catch are removed from them and placed into the Public Distribution System, which is slowly running out of food.

Chang is forced to take great risks by creeping out at night without light and fishing where the vigilant authorities cannot find him. This works for a bit, but the food they are able to find is so meager that he has to watch as his wife and daughter, who is now eleven, become no more than walking bones. Chung agonizes at the fact that he can put both his hands around his daughter’s waist and that the fingers meet easily and overlap. Finally in 1999 during the middle of the winter, his daughter becomes very sick. Her beautiful face, she is an exquisite child with dark hair, almond eyes and pale skin, shrinks to no more than cheekbones and eyes.

Every night in the small cabin in which they live, her father hears her coughing, her chest heaving with the effort to catch her breath. Both he and his wife do not say anything to each other, but they know that she is close to death.

Chung goes to the authorities at the Public Distribution System to beg them for food for his daughter, and on his way there as he walks through the snow-covered street of Sinuiju, a stray sheet of newspaper blows across his foot and covers it. As he looks down he sees, but cannot read through eyes stiff with cold, that the government is spending millions of dollars to purchase 40 MIG-21 warplanes from Kazakhstan.

On arriving at the Office of Public Distribution he is told by an official who looks warm and well fed that there is no food, and that if he does not leave immediately he and his family will be forcibly moved to a nearby Stalin-style industrial camp, where they will be put to work.

On returning to their boat with the bad news, he and his wife desperately make a warming broth for their daughter from the soles of an old pair of leather shoes that Chung has worn in school many years ago when he was a young man. All hope like a dark bird has flown from their tiny home, and while Kim Jong and his family feast on the fruits of foreign aid that they have diverted into their own coffers, his daughter dies later that night in both their arms.

As the small body that is no more than skin and bone lies in their arms, they remember their daughter, who despite her hard life loved to run across the thick river ice near their boat and shout back at them, her black hair flowing in the wind like a flag of independence under her small cloth cap; her hands clumsy in their cloth mittens. She was so full of joy they remember, and like a delicate songbird soared across the arc of their life bringing them comfort and hope.
Their daughter Bong-cha loved to sing, and they remember her singing as she sat perched on the front of their boat, as the fishing lines dangled loosely in the water in front of her on a warm spring day. She told them she was singing the fish to sleep in their underwater gardens, blue and green with river weed and rocked by the gentle currents.

little fishes,
little fishes
in your deep water garden
sleep gently in the weeds
don’t let the big birds get you
or the nets snare you
little fishes
close your eyes and dream

The old man and his wife weep as they remember their daughter, who was their light and their joy.

Meanwhile as they mourn her death, many miles away in the capital, Kim Jong remarks to his wife where she lies reclining in their red, Chinese lacquer bed, and as he slowly unbuttons his black coat from the neck down, “let the people eat nothing”.

Since it was winter and Chung and Dae did not want their daughter’s body to decompose in any way before a proper burial could be arranged for her, they laid her outside on the small wooden deck, wrapped up in a hand embroidered, silk blanket that Dae’s mother had given to her on the occasion of her wedding.
They went to bed that night pressed up against each other on the solid wooden boards of the boat, each one silently nursing their sorrow like a small bruised flower that grows in a dark and secret place.

When they woke the next morning Chung went out to recover his daughter’s body and prepare it for burial. He and his wife would bath and dress Bong-cha in her best suit. They would comb her hair and collect any stray pieces that had fallen which would be placed with her in her grave. They would be unable to feed her the three spoonfuls of rice that was an old tradition. However despite their abject poverty they would take one of the small metal coins lying in the tin cup under the floorboards of the boat and place it in her mouth, believing that this would ease her journey into the next world. They would bind her body seven times with rope before they broke the ice on the river and placed her body in it. They would put together a pinso, a make shift shrine, where they would sit together and remember their daughter through stories they would tell to each other about her short and sweet life. They would sing to the fishes about her.

When Chang lifted the blanket however it felt very light and he realized immediately that his daughter’s body was not inside. He called out in alarm to his wife who came stumbling out of the galvanized cabin into the cold, rubbing her eyes. Her breath came out in short gasps and spun a cloud of white smoke around her shoulders.

Dae cried out in alarm when she saw her daughter’s body was gone and flapped her small hands uselessly in the air like a trapped, brown sparrow. They looked all over their boat but they could not find her anywhere. Chang thought that perhaps the wolves and foxes had come onto the boat in the night from the nearby forest and taken her far away.

Chang would have gone to the authorities to report this unbearable loss, but he remembered his last brush with them and did not want him and Dae to be sent to a work camp. Instead the two, broken old people nursed their sorrow silently and it stung like nettles all over their frail and famished skin.
They passed the winter in a daze hardly eating and getting weaker and weaker as the cold crept into their brittle bones and settled against their hearts, immoveable and frozen. In the spring barely alive they began to fish again. It was as if the river and the fish knew of their loss, remembered the little dark-haired girl who sang so sweetly, and it gave them a bumper harvest of eels and carp.

When old Chang took his full buckets to the market as the famine was breaking and food was starting to weakly flow again, he met some of his fellow fishermen who were also there to sell baskets of carp laid out on grass and leaves, and long brown eels twisting and thrashing in metal buckets.

As he was passing a group of several men whom he knew by name, he greeted them gently and told them that he wished them plentiful fishing. He told them that the river had been kind to him and that he hoped they would be as lucky, that he hoped the spirits of the water goddess would bless them as she had blessed both him and his wife.

The men nodded at him and smiled, one however looked away and once the old man had passed said out of the corner of his mouth, the words spinning away from where his fellow fishermen were gathered:

“Old man your daughter had little meat and she tasted like fish”.

The Secrets of the Grail:Mehr’s Incredible Journey

It was in the Gardens of Babylon through yet another Middle Eastern stargate in Iraq that I met Shammuramat, Queen of Assyria in 809 BCE, about 500 years before Alexander conquered Persia.  This extraordinary woman, upon her husband Nimrod’s death ruled Assyria, Armenia, Arabia, Persia, and Egypt for forty years.  She was the one who it is rumored built Babylon with its beautiful and famous gardens.

 

When I arrived in Babylon with Raphael and Marida to meet her, she was working in her gardens.

 

“Woman from the future I have much to show you,”

 

She said enthusiastically as we approached her where she was kneeling in front of her plants.

 

She was wearing a diaphanous green dress cinched at the waist with one shoulder bare; a stunningly beautiful woman in her late forties with long African hair that was still black and skin that glistened like an eggplant.  She was extremely tall and well-muscled and looked as if she lifted weights.   She wore a silver chain around her neck and on it was a dove in the shape of an arrow.

 

She grasped my hand and embraced me.  The strength of her grip was bruising but tremendously invigorating.  Her breasts were large and met mine as our chests engaged.

 

I looked around me with amazement at multiple trees that hung by roots that were embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth.   Under the trees were stone columns carrying beams of palm which were nourishing the roots and fibers of those trees.  These structures also seemed to be full of earth in which other trees were planted, which did not hang but stood upright bearing all manner of fruit including large orange persimmons.  Additionally around the trees were many plants and brilliant flowers.  This gave the impression to visitors of being under the garden as well as in it.  All was well irrigated by streams that flowed downwards onto roots and earth.   There were many terraces above the initial columns which supported the entire structure that was made of bricks and a kind of stone cement.

 

Shammuramat lead me firmly by the hand among the terraced gardens, with Raphael and Marida following behind, and started to show me her plants.

 

“Here,” she said picking up a large green leafed plant, “is one we use for aromatic baths.”   

 

Like a brilliant dragonfly, she led me from plant to plant and showed me flowers from which she said she made cosmetic and healing plasters.  Then she took me to trees from which she was harvesting resins that she said she would later use to heal wounds.   The array of teas in her herb garden were astounding, the only ones I recognized were chamomile and mint.  

 

As we moved from plant to plant, she suddenly begged to wash my hair and produced a small vial with a deep red liquid in it from the bag she carried on her shoulder.   She placed me on a stone near one of the streams that ran down the side of the garden, poured icy water on my head that felt surprisingly pleasant in this hot climate, and washed my hair with a liquid that smelled of pomegranate noir.   When she had finished and after she had dried my hair briefly with a brightly colored linen cloth that she also took from her bag, she made me reach up to feel my hair :

 

“It feels like ironed silk.””I told her, upon which she smiled and her entire face shone with pride. She then gave me a small onyx pot she had taken from her bag and told me:

 

“I add essential oils that are scented to this cream s made with animal fat that I melt and filter through pieces of linen.  It is to keep your skin young,” she smiled as she handed it to me.

 

“At other times,” she continued, “ I will add flavored plant oils and extracts to the same cream for healing wounds and many other internal ailments.”

 

Raphael and Marida had been watching this carefully when Marida said:

 

“Great Queen, I have heard that as well as being a skilled alchemist and chemist, that you are also a military genius.  I understand that you carried a sword in battle with your late husband, and attacked the flank of many a besieged city with your generals.”

 

Shammuramat smiled and flexed her arms reaching out as if she held a sword. 

 

“In the heat of battle I have killed many a warrior, and was glad of it to save my life and those of my men,” she said.

 

I told her:

 

“In my world women cannot fight in battle with our men.”

 

Her eyes opened wide.

 

“Why is that?”  She asked me.

 

“I don’t really know why, I think for a number of reasons.   Traditional attitudes make us uncomfortable with the idea of women fighting and dying.  Also they think we’ll interfere in some way with male bonding and distract our men.  .

As I was talking she started to laugh and threw her arm around my shoulder squeezing it hard.

 

“Well,” she said, “I have a message for your men, women are always very distracting as you say, but they are also strong and brave fighters and great military strategists and leaders.   We are mothers, wives, scientists, architects, and we are also fierce warriors.  The fiercest you will ever see or know.  What we lack in strength we make up for in cunning and strategy.”

“In all revolutionary and underground movements women fight along with men, it becomes a necessity, and they are well respected and lauded for their efforts,” I added.

“That is good to hear,” she said.

As we talked she led us to a beautifully laid table under an arbor of hanging trees.

On it sat platters piled high with rice and different meats in rich sauces flavored with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.

We ate the food on silver plates with our fingers.  Soft linen towels lay near them that were wet with mint water, on which we wiped our sticky hands.

After we ate our meal she offered us thin bread dough spread with nuts and honey that had been baked in an oven.  It was very like baklava, but had a smokey flavor and was thinner.

As we ate our meal we drank fruit wine and talked of many things.  She was a fine woman and it saddened me that history had never sufficiently highlighted her accomplishments.

“I know in your world they wonder if I existed,” she said “Well, now you have met me, tell them that I do.”

After the meal a serving woman brought a baby to her which she suckled at her breast without any self-consciousness. 

“A child from my lover, a young, Libyan warrior of great strength and gentleness,” she said smiling.

The baby was a creamy color with big dark eyes and a fuzz of hair on its head. It reached up frequently to squeeze the skin of its mother’s breast.

“Some have called me the whore of Babylon,” she said smiling, “but as you see I am no whore.”

“Oh that,” said Marida, “that is from the priests and prophets in their old testament.  Women do not come out well there.  Too difficult to think of them as leaders, warriors or prophets, and to name them so.  All their great religious leaders from history are men and their God is male as well.”

“But how can that be?” she said. “A male without a female has no resonance.  Neither of them has completion – they are but two sides of a golden coin.”  She smiled as she looked at Raphael and Marida and drew a circle around them with her hands.

Raphael then spoke for the first time.

“I am not a human male who concerns itself with females,  Djinn or otherwise”.

“But has Eros perhaps clouded your eyes, my lord celestial being,” she asked teasingly pointing at me.

“As you know my dear Queen, it is impossible for me to manifest Eros when I am with humans. Have I been commanded to share my essence with her?  Indeed I have, in what we call a joining.  Her consciousness and soul is large and old,  and has the feel of metal on silk.”  He smiled.

“And will you join with me, Raphael?” she asked

“I cannot, as you already know, magnificent Queen,  even if I  wished, since I have not been commanded,” he said.

“And if I order you to do so?”

“I still cannot,” he deferred, smiling gently.

“No matter spirit,” she said trying to tempt him, “tonight my sweet young lover’s thighs will be between mine, both above and below.”

Raphael as always smiled enigmatically, and then he touched her shoulder.

Take a piece of me with you when you join tonight as human.  Consider this my gift, it will be the most erotic act you have ever known.”

All this time Marida was watching quizzically, and then she leaned over and touched the Queen’s other shoulder as well.

“Smoke and fire from me tonight as a gift for your lover.”

Raphael then got up and stretched his very tall form, taller than the Queen’s and said looking down at her:

“Sadly we must bid you farewell, beautiful Shammuramat.”

He bent down and drew his lips across the baby’s forehead, whereupon it gurgled and grabbed his hair, which he gently disentangled.

Then Shammuramat, Queen of Assyria and mother of Babylon rose and held me close kissing me long and hard on the lips.  Her lips were large and soft and sensuous, and it was the first time I had kissed a woman in this way. 

Finally she let me go and said, “May the spirits of your dead walk with you always.”

“May you prosper and defeat all of your enemies now and in the future,” I replied

Then the three of us walked out of the hanging gardens of Babylon through our stargate, and I took my onyx pot filled with cinnamon-colored face cream with me.

 

It was in the Gardens of Babylon through yet another Middle Eastern stargate in Iraq that I met Shammuramat, Queen of Assyria in 809 BCE, about 500 years before Alexander conquered Persia.  This extraordinary woman, upon her husband Nimrod’s death ruled Assyria, Armenia, Arabia, Persia, and Egypt for forty years.  She was the one who it is rumored built Babylon with its beautiful and famous gardens.

 

When I arrived in Babylon with Raphael and Marida to meet her, she was working in her gardens.

 

“Woman from the future I have much to show you,”

 

She said enthusiastically as we approached her where she was kneeling in front of her plants.

 

She was wearing a diaphanous green dress cinched at the waist with one shoulder bare; a stunningly beautiful woman in her late forties with long African hair that was still black and skin that glistened like an eggplant.  She was extremely tall and well-muscled and looked as if she lifted weights.   She wore a silver chain around her neck and on it was a dove in the shape of an arrow.

 

She grasped my hand and embraced me.  The strength of her grip was bruising but tremendously invigorating.  Her breasts were large and met mine as our chests engaged.

 

I looked around me with amazement at multiple trees that hung by roots that were embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth.   Under the trees were stone columns carrying beams of palm which were nourishing the roots and fibers of those trees.  These structures also seemed to be full of earth in which other trees were planted, which did not hang but stood upright bearing all manner of fruit including large orange persimmons.  Additionally around the trees were many plants and brilliant flowers.  This gave the impression to visitors of being under the garden as well as in it.  All was well irrigated by streams that flowed downwards onto roots and earth.   There were many terraces above the initial columns which supported the entire structure that was made of bricks and a kind of stone cement.

 

Shammuramat lead me firmly by the hand among the terraced gardens, with Raphael and Marida following behind, and started to show me her plants.

 

“Here,” she said picking up a large green leafed plant, “is one we use for aromatic baths.”   

 

Like a brilliant dragonfly, she led me from plant to plant and showed me flowers from which she said she made cosmetic and healing plasters.  Then she took me to trees from which she was harvesting resins that she said she would later use to heal wounds.   The array of teas in her herb garden were astounding, the only ones I recognized were chamomile and mint.  

 

As we moved from plant to plant, she suddenly begged to wash my hair and produced a small vial with a deep red liquid in it from the bag she carried on her shoulder.   She placed me on a stone near one of the streams that ran down the side of the garden, poured icy water on my head that felt surprisingly pleasant in this hot climate, and washed my hair with a liquid that smelled of pomegranate noir.   When she had finished and after she had dried my hair briefly with a brightly colored linen cloth that she also took from her bag, she made me reach up to feel my hair :

 

“It feels like ironed silk.””I told her, upon which she smiled and her entire face shone with pride. She then gave me a small onyx pot she had taken from her bag and told me:

 

“I add essential oils that are scented to this cream s made with animal fat that I melt and filter through pieces of linen.  It is to keep your skin young,” she smiled as she handed it to me.

 

“At other times,” she continued, “ I will add flavored plant oils and extracts to the same cream for healing wounds and many other internal ailments.”

 

Raphael and Marida had been watching this carefully when Marida said:

 

“Great Queen, I have heard that as well as being a skilled alchemist and chemist, that you are also a military genius.  I understand that you carried a sword in battle with your late husband, and attacked the flank of many a besieged city with your generals.”

 

Shammuramat smiled and flexed her arms reaching out as if she held a sword. 

 

“In the heat of battle I have killed many a warrior, and was glad of it to save my life and those of my men,” she said.

 

I told her:

 

“In my world women cannot fight in battle with our men.”

 

Her eyes opened wide.

 

“Why is that?”  She asked me.

 

“I don’t really know why, I think for a number of reasons.   Traditional attitudes make us uncomfortable with the idea of women fighting and dying.  Also they think we’ll interfere in some way with male bonding and distract our men.  .

As I was talking she started to laugh and threw her arm around my shoulder squeezing it hard.

 

“Well,” she said, “I have a message for your men, women are always very distracting as you say, but they are also strong and brave fighters and great military strategists and leaders.   We are mothers, wives, scientists, architects, and we are also fierce warriors.  The fiercest you will ever see or know.  What we lack in strength we make up for in cunning and strategy.”

“In all revolutionary and underground movements women fight along with men, it becomes a necessity, and they are well respected and lauded for their efforts,” I added.

“That is good to hear,” she said.

As we talked she led us to a beautifully laid table under an arbor of hanging trees.

On it sat platters piled high with rice and different meats in rich sauces flavored with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.

We ate the food on silver plates with our fingers.  Soft linen towels lay near them that were wet with mint water, on which we wiped our sticky hands.

After we ate our meal she offered us thin bread dough spread with nuts and honey that had been baked in an oven.  It was very like baklava, but had a smokey flavor and was thinner.

As we ate our meal we drank fruit wine and talked of many things.  She was a fine woman and it saddened me that history had never sufficiently highlighted her accomplishments.

“I know in your world they wonder if I existed,” she said “Well, now you have met me, tell them that I do.”

After the meal a serving woman brought a baby to her which she suckled at her breast without any self-consciousness. 

“A child from my lover, a young, Libyan warrior of great strength and gentleness,” she said smiling.

The baby was a creamy color with big dark eyes and a fuzz of hair on its head. It reached up frequently to squeeze the skin of its mother’s breast.

“Some have called me the whore of Babylon,” she said smiling, “but as you see I am no whore.”

“Oh that,” said Marida, “that is from the priests and prophets in their old testament.  Women do not come out well there.  Too difficult to think of them as leaders, warriors or prophets, and to name them so.  All their great religious leaders from history are men and their God is male as well.”

“But how can that be?” she said. “A male without a female has no resonance.  Neither of them has completion – they are but two sides of a golden coin.”  She smiled as she looked at Raphael and Marida and drew a circle around them with her hands.

Raphael then spoke for the first time.

“I am not a human male who concerns itself with females,  Djinn or otherwise”.

“But has Eros perhaps clouded your eyes, my lord celestial being,” she asked teasingly pointing at me.

“As you know my dear Queen, it is impossible for me to manifest Eros when I am with humans. Have I been commanded to share my essence with her?  Indeed I have, in what we call a joining.  Her consciousness and soul is large and old,  and has the feel of metal on silk.”  He smiled.

“And will you join with me, Raphael?” she asked

“I cannot, as you already know, magnificent Queen,  even if I  wished, since I have not been commanded,” he said.

“And if I order you to do so?”

“I still cannot,” he deferred, smiling gently.

“No matter spirit,” she said trying to tempt him, “tonight my sweet young lover’s thighs will be between mine, both above and below.”

Raphael as always smiled enigmatically, and then he touched her shoulder.

Take a piece of me with you when you join tonight as human.  Consider this my gift, it will be the most erotic act you have ever known.”

All this time Marida was watching quizzically, and then she leaned over and touched the Queen’s other shoulder as well.

“Smoke and fire from me tonight as a gift for your lover.”

Raphael then got up and stretched his very tall form, taller than the Queen’s and said looking down at her:

“Sadly we must bid you farewell, beautiful Shammuramat.”

He bent down and drew his lips across the baby’s forehead, whereupon it gurgled and grabbed his hair, which he gently disentangled.

Then Shammuramat, Queen of Assyria and mother of Babylon rose and held me close kissing me long and hard on the lips.  Her lips were large and soft and sensuous, and it was the first time I had kissed a woman in this way. 

Finally she let me go and said, “May the spirits of your dead walk with you always.”

“May you prosper and defeat all of your enemies now and in the future,” I replied

Then the three of us walked out of the hanging gardens of Babylon through our stargate, and I took my onyx pot filled with cinnamon-colored face cream with me.

 

It was in the Gardens of Babylon through yet another Middle Eastern stargate in Iraq that I met Shammuramat, Queen of Assyria in 809 BCE, about 500 years before Alexander conquered Persia.  This extraordinary woman, upon her husband Nimrod’s death ruled Assyria, Armenia, Arabia, Persia, and Egypt for forty years.  She was the one who it is rumored built Babylon with its beautiful and famous gardens.

 

When I arrived in Babylon with Raphael and Marida to meet her, she was working in her gardens.

 

“Woman from the future I have much to show you,”

 

She said enthusiastically as we approached her where she was kneeling in front of her plants.

 

She was wearing a diaphanous green dress cinched at the waist with one shoulder bare; a stunningly beautiful woman in her late forties with long African hair that was still black and skin that glistened like an eggplant.  She was extremely tall and well-muscled and looked as if she lifted weights.   She wore a silver chain around her neck and on it was a dove in the shape of an arrow.

 

She grasped my hand and embraced me.  The strength of her grip was bruising but tremendously invigorating.  Her breasts were large and met mine as our chests engaged.

 

I looked around me with amazement at multiple trees that hung by roots that were embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth.   Under the trees were stone columns carrying beams of palm which were nourishing the roots and fibers of those trees.  These structures also seemed to be full of earth in which other trees were planted, which did not hang but stood upright bearing all manner of fruit including large orange persimmons.  Additionally around the trees were many plants and brilliant flowers.  This gave the impression to visitors of being under the garden as well as in it.  All was well irrigated by streams that flowed downwards onto roots and earth.   There were many terraces above the initial columns which supported the entire structure that was made of bricks and a kind of stone cement.

 

Shammuramat lead me firmly by the hand among the terraced gardens, with Raphael and Marida following behind, and started to show me her plants.

 

“Here,” she said picking up a large green leafed plant, “is one we use for aromatic baths.”   

 

Like a brilliant dragonfly, she led me from plant to plant and showed me flowers from which she said she made cosmetic and healing plasters.  Then she took me to trees from which she was harvesting resins that she said she would later use to heal wounds.   The array of teas in her herb garden were astounding, the only ones I recognized were chamomile and mint.  

 

As we moved from plant to plant, she suddenly begged to wash my hair and produced a small vial with a deep red liquid in it from the bag she carried on her shoulder.   She placed me on a stone near one of the streams that ran down the side of the garden, poured icy water on my head that felt surprisingly pleasant in this hot climate, and washed my hair with a liquid that smelled of pomegranate noir.   When she had finished and after she had dried my hair briefly with a brightly colored linen cloth that she also took from her bag, she made me reach up to feel my hair :

 

“It feels like ironed silk.””I told her, upon which she smiled and her entire face shone with pride. She then gave me a small onyx pot she had taken from her bag and told me:

 

“I add essential oils that are scented to this cream s made with animal fat that I melt and filter through pieces of linen.  It is to keep your skin young,” she smiled as she handed it to me.

 

“At other times,” she continued, “ I will add flavored plant oils and extracts to the same cream for healing wounds and many other internal ailments.”

 

Raphael and Marida had been watching this carefully when Marida said:

 

“Great Queen, I have heard that as well as being a skilled alchemist and chemist, that you are also a military genius.  I understand that you carried a sword in battle with your late husband, and attacked the flank of many a besieged city with your generals.”

 

Shammuramat smiled and flexed her arms reaching out as if she held a sword. 

 

“In the heat of battle I have killed many a warrior, and was glad of it to save my life and those of my men,” she said.

 

I told her:

 

“In my world women cannot fight in battle with our men.”

 

Her eyes opened wide.

 

“Why is that?”  She asked me.

 

“I don’t really know why, I think for a number of reasons.   Traditional attitudes make us uncomfortable with the idea of women fighting and dying.  Also they think we’ll interfere in some way with male bonding and distract our men.  .

As I was talking she started to laugh and threw her arm around my shoulder squeezing it hard.

 

“Well,” she said, “I have a message for your men, women are always very distracting as you say, but they are also strong and brave fighters and great military strategists and leaders.   We are mothers, wives, scientists, architects, and we are also fierce warriors.  The fiercest you will ever see or know.  What we lack in strength we make up for in cunning and strategy.”

“In all revolutionary and underground movements women fight along with men, it becomes a necessity, and they are well respected and lauded for their efforts,” I added.

“That is good to hear,” she said.

As we talked she led us to a beautifully laid table under an arbor of hanging trees.

On it sat platters piled high with rice and different meats in rich sauces flavored with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.

We ate the food on silver plates with our fingers.  Soft linen towels lay near them that were wet with mint water, on which we wiped our sticky hands.

After we ate our meal she offered us thin bread dough spread with nuts and honey that had been baked in an oven.  It was very like baklava, but had a smokey flavor and was thinner.

As we ate our meal we drank fruit wine and talked of many things.  She was a fine woman and it saddened me that history had never sufficiently highlighted her accomplishments.

“I know in your world they wonder if I existed,” she said “Well, now you have met me, tell them that I do.”

After the meal a serving woman brought a baby to her which she suckled at her breast without any self-consciousness. 

“A child from my lover, a young, Libyan warrior of great strength and gentleness,” she said smiling.

The baby was a creamy color with big dark eyes and a fuzz of hair on its head. It reached up frequently to squeeze the skin of its mother’s breast.

“Some have called me the whore of Babylon,” she said smiling, “but as you see I am no whore.”

“Oh that,” said Marida, “that is from the priests and prophets in their old testament.  Women do not come out well there.  Too difficult to think of them as leaders, warriors or prophets, and to name them so.  All their great religious leaders from history are men and their God is male as well.”

“But how can that be?” she said. “A male without a female has no resonance.  Neither of them has completion – they are but two sides of a golden coin.”  She smiled as she looked at Raphael and Marida and drew a circle around them with her hands.

Raphael then spoke for the first time.

“I am not a human male who concerns itself with females,  Djinn or otherwise”.

“But has Eros perhaps clouded your eyes, my lord celestial being,” she asked teasingly pointing at me.

“As you know my dear Queen, it is impossible for me to manifest Eros when I am with humans. Have I been commanded to share my essence with her?  Indeed I have, in what we call a joining.  Her consciousness and soul is large and old,  and has the feel of metal on silk.”  He smiled.

“And will you join with me, Raphael?” she asked

“I cannot, as you already know, magnificent Queen,  even if I  wished, since I have not been commanded,” he said.

“And if I order you to do so?”

“I still cannot,” he deferred, smiling gently.

“No matter spirit,” she said trying to tempt him, “tonight my sweet young lover’s thighs will be between mine, both above and below.”

Raphael as always smiled enigmatically, and then he touched her shoulder.

Take a piece of me with you when you join tonight as human.  Consider this my gift, it will be the most erotic act you have ever known.”

All this time Marida was watching quizzically, and then she leaned over and touched the Queen’s other shoulder as well.

“Smoke and fire from me tonight as a gift for your lover.”

Raphael then got up and stretched his very tall form, taller than the Queen’s and said looking down at her:

“Sadly we must bid you farewell, beautiful Shammuramat.”

He bent down and drew his lips across the baby’s forehead, whereupon it gurgled and grabbed his hair, which he gently disentangled.

Then Shammuramat, Queen of Assyria and mother of Babylon rose and held me close kissing me long and hard on the lips.  Her lips were large and soft and sensuous, and it was the first time I had kissed a woman in this way. 

Finally she let me go and said, “May the spirits of your dead walk with you always.”

“May you prosper and defeat all of your enemies now and in the future,” I replied

Then the three of us walked out of the hanging gardens of Babylon through our stargate, and I took my onyx pot filled with cinnamon-colored face cream with me.

 

Funders meeting on SVG today.   Five funders in attendance …Canadians, US and UK.  Also stakeholders.   Many needs.  No municipal government here so while easy to inform central government as a courtesy difficult to know where to create public/private partnerships.  We are focusing on the sports stadium, a fisheries project, job training and infrastructure as well as healthcare and education.  Literacy is a big issue.  Kudos to Bequians for their get up and go…kudos to Mary Tidlund Foundation, Kerosene Lamp Foundation, Community Foundation for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Mustique Trust.   Thanks for coming everyone.   www.actionbequia.org.