Do you know how long ago it was that the heart
Vanished at last from the face of the earth?
Once it cropped up on the coins of Cyrene:
Double-chambered emblem only Cupid’s dart
Could ever penetrate. The last stalk it ventured, Nero ate.
Those sylphs a-stroll in the Silver Age of consent
Would have sworn by Silphium. Libya had the monopoly
Since the heart refused to grow anywhere else
Although its badge appears on the excavated seals
And signet rings of Crete’s ingenious civilization.
Might it be they nurtured it, or harvested its cultivation?
Canny serpent sorceresses, with a knack for herbs
As Daedalus for mazes, his engineers commissioned to devise
The self-sealing chambers of the pyramids.
But neither as immobile as the pharaohs,
Nor into marauding – like the patriarchal horde
Sweeping into mainland Greece from the North –
Crete and Santorini were islands of sophistication.
Maybe they stole both the heart and its soil
So that they could bed the love-seed in their seas.
Magical societies that inspire the torch to burn
Always know the art of contraception, wise to desire
Being seen as an end in itself, rather than a recipe
For drudgery. Better than the dogma of “Go forth”
There is that Boustrophedon return
Of the plough to where it was, adjacent to
Its previous furrow; one direction steered about
And tacking back, then back again, as if the share
Sheared the turf simply for the sake of it,
The seed scattered afterwards for the joy of doing it.
In that fair age, a bond adored was not constrained
To pregnancy or disallowed. Getting nowhere happily,
Hearts would fuse for fusion’s sake, until, when ripeness called,
There was that entirety of a field finally ploughed
As it was done in the day of the ploughman’s father.
Did you know their threshing circles gifted us the theatre?
Dancing with bulls, regaling the Nile with their henna,
Intercourse then was as carefree as any Etruscan’s
Or as the Languedoc’s later – blown to bits by eruption
Sadly, then overwhelmed by the ensuing tsunami.
As for the heart-seed, a bead of its resin sufficed
To bring on your menses, after having dallied with Adonis.
Queen Anne’s lace is a relative, wild carrot, penny-royal,
Pomegranate too, but none have quite the properties
Silphium possessed – as a scent, an inducement and a medicine.
Killed by demand, it vanished, as the empire of the Caesars
Entered its decline. Nero must have been transitioning;
Or perhaps, to have ate the very last
Guaranteed the laurel of magnificence, like being the guy
Who hunted down the one remaining Dodo.
But this is how the heart has vanished from the face of the earth,
And do you know what happens to those empires that are
Relieved of their heart? First they blow others to bits for a while,
Libya, for instance, while they seek to multiply
Progressively; but in the end what’s needed is an ark.
And if this sounds far-fetched, read about the remarkable history of the Judean Date Palm.
Click here for the meaning of Boustrophedon.