Scheherazade By Richard Siken

Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
we’re inconsolable.
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

Mr. Siken is still one of my all time favorites. This poem kills me in a new way every time I read it. A few months ago I had the honor of teaching writing to a few high school classes and I chose this poem as the one we read and discussed. I learned so much from the students about how to enjoy poetry, how to ask questions, how to be humble.

Scheherazade was a legendary Persian queen and the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights. From wikipedia:

The frame tale goes that every day The King would marry a new virgin, and every day he would send yesterday’s wife to be beheaded. This was done in anger, having found out that his first wife was betraying him. He had killed one thousand such women by the time he was introduced to Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter.

Against her father’s protestations, Scheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the King. Once in the King’s chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved sister, Dinazade, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night. The King lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by, and Scheherazade stopped in the middle of the story. The King asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was not time, as dawn was breaking. So, the King spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. So the next night, Scheherazade finished the story, and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through, at dawn. So the King again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.

And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of last night’s story. At the end of one thousand and one nights, and one thousand stories, Scheherazade told the King that she had no more tales to tell him. During these one thousand and one nights, the King had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and had three sons with her. So, having been made a wiser and kinder man by Scheherazade and her tales, he spared her life, and made her his Queen.

Now read the poem again.

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