Hard Questions


And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree . . .
Coleridge: Kubla Khan

Sheba’s ghost, lamenting, wails for Yemen:

Her incense trees are lacerated, scarred.

Sapped for their fragrance, drained of life and marred

Their smoking blood offered up to heaven.

No sinuous rills flow forth to bless the dead;

Beneath her ruined dam no gardens grow;

And Bedouins only sing of what they know

In wastelands of the nomad past. It’s said

That all those spices, all that golden smoke

and irrigated dreams beneath the sand

were just a subtle Solomonic joke.

The yearly weight of gold, the camel-trains,

Are cryptic numbers—chanted in refrains

That only Marib’s phantoms understand.


PROMPT #4: write a poem based on an image from a dream.

Kushitic Closure

I end my Abyssinian blog posts with a poem I wrote several years ago.
It may be indirectly inspired by memories of a lovely and kind-hearted Ethiopian university student who lived with my family when I was 10. She introduced us to berbere and doro wat, and set me up to appreciate gastronomy from Africa’s horn for a long time to come. She had a beautiful smile,  she had a Wilson Pickett record and she initiated me into the mysteries of pop music and the radio. Her name was Adeye. This was in the mid-70’s just before the Marxist coup which brought in Haile Mengistu Mariam. We lost touch with her long ago. The poem is also inspired by times I have been offered coffee among Ethiopian people, who have a beautiful ceremony involving frankincense when they partake.

One last Kushitic dream—be patient:  once I was at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in the Egyptian mummy room. I was chatting for a while with a beautiful Eritrean security guard among the crypts. Mysteriously, everyone cleared out and for a short while it was only the two of us, surrounded by opened sarcophagi in the dimly-lit room. For a moment I thought I was speaking with the eternal spirit of some Nubian princess who had just climbed out of one of them !

(Of course Psalm 68 in the King James Version also had something to do with my Ethiopic overload…) Now my poem:



I long to know that land in spirit
where the highlands meet the desert.
Where there’s faith and coffee served
with ceremony still observed.

The white-robed land, where priests intone
in levite ritual ‘round the ark.
A land in clouds of frankincense,
whose past is bitter, strong and dark. 


I’ll enter where the rock is carved
in cruciform epiphany;
where Midian’s curtains hide the starved

whose hunger feeds conspiracy. 

I’ll walk the wilds of Meroë
all ruined in the desert sands,ethiop cross
where beauty wails and ululates
as silver gleams on amber strands.

Her kings and peasants come to naught
when princes’ plots are overthrown.
Her blameless name was never bought;
her faith in Christ is scribed in stone.


Queen Sheba’s golden sepulcher – 
your modern guises can’t suffice
to quench the fire of God and spice.

Davidic land—like calvary
your power purifies the heart
through struggle, prayer, and ancient art.

Sinister Solomonic Insinuations

ethiopian crucifix    Eth Icon    GOLD666

Etiopia Yemen

WE cannot tell exactly who the Queen of the South was,
nor exactly where Sheba lay. The expression used is Yemen, the south. Yemen is the name of a part of Arabia Felix and it would appear from the spices which the Queen brought with her that she came from that region. At the same time, the Abyssinians claim her as having been their queen. They say that she was converted through her conversations with Solomon, that afterwards the faith of God was preserved in the country, and hence that that famous Ethiopian, who was a eunuch of great authority under Candace in later times, was a proselyte to the Jewish faith on account of that faith existing in Abyssinia. 

A Greater Than Solomon 
[Sermon #3166 by Charles Spurgeon – published October 14, 1909]


And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants. Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.

1 Kings 10:13-15 [ESV]

No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls:
for the price of wisdom is above rubies.
The topaz of Ethiopia shall not equal it,
neither shall it be valued with pure gold.

Job 28: 18-19 [KJV]

This calls for wisdom:
let the one who has understanding
calculate the number of the beast,

for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

Revelation 13:18

ICON IMAGE CREDIT: Simaschew Mesfin, from  http://www.betsyporter.com