John Tipton has two books, a translation of Sophocles' Ajax and surfaces, a collection of his own verse, both published by Flood Editions. A translation of Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes and a new collection, Paramnesia, are forthcoming from Flood. He lives in Chicago with his wife Stephanie and son Levi.
Theseus finds himself detained in strange surroundings.
Seems there's some problem with his visa.
He sits alone in a drab room
with no idea where they've taken Pirithous.
Through filthy windows he can see Shenzhen—
preposterous architecture against a gray rinsed sky;
the haze today thickened by a hangover
from last night's Tsingtao plied with 'ganbei.'
Theseus studies water blots that cloud the ceiling
and reads them as rhinos on stampede.
How different the sign on the door
whose Hanzi characters squint inscrutably at him.
The artifice of his wakeful state distorts
these odd mnemonics he mistakes for thought.
Xerxes the King frowns through dark glasses
flanked on the viewing stand by admirals
and the bloated eunuchs of his staff.
Newsreel film crews crowd a nearby platform
documenting this day's events for all Persia.
In line along the beach before him
the piked heads of his former engineers—
Egyptians and Phoenicians whose bridge had failed.
But Xerxes would also punish these waters— he will not sacrifice to this stream.
At a subtle gesture of his hand
the countdown begins its descent toward detonation.
The device triggers on zero. Xerxes glares.
Over the atoll a small sun flares.
They stood dumb beneath the beetling jungle
in black Chuck Taylors and white t-shirts
come to preach across the bridge less waters
at a buckle in the brown Curaray.
These Americans call the place Palm Beach,
address its people with a Quechua slur.
Over the river on the opposite shore
Benjamin Whorf attempts to deliver a message.
Slowed by the air his words decompose,
break into original utterance and primitive sound.
They float like the yellow Piper aircraft
that descends through the Neolithic into Ecuador.
Reformed as the remote Aramaic of Jesus
they assemble into gospels of approximate myth.
The Huaorani men will kill these missionaries
then strip the Piper's wings of fabric.
They'll circle that artifact on the sand,
its frame laid bare in formal relief.
Together they will thicken syllables into song
into the hidden figures of their memories
into what sounds old whenever they sing
word for word what no radio transmits.