Gazing at Ithaca

Valerie Bence 



On Mondays and Fridays we would travel back to Egypt, Greece and Rome

to Mesopotamia’s cradle of civilisation,

wander the fertile crescents fields of early wheat

and reeds grown for papyrus

or sink into inking-in Greek columns, imbibing their subtle differences;

Ionic, Doric, Corinthian,

you never know when that will come in handy…..

all this in books, so it must be true.

I scuff my unfashionable shoes

while swinging on a chair and hide myself in Babylon

looking for the Hanging Gardens.


I once spent a whole holiday, arms on the edge of a pool

gazing at Ithaca

only to discover on the last day

that it was on the other side of the island

and couldn’t be seen at all.

And now I know the Hanging Gardens weren’t built in Babylon

but in Ninevah



Marco Polo first named it Elephant Bird,

        ‘which feedeth its young on elephants’ held fast in gigantic talons,

Sinbad first thought it a cloud, come over the sun……called it Roc.

But the only possibility could not fly, was no hunter of elephants,

was a vegetarian, thick-necked bird

robust, cumbersome like a feathered tank

living one hundred years or more.


So, while no creature could lay this wondrous egg

it would be no surprise if one by one

this speckled mix of ready-mapped feathers

would take to the sky

like hummingbirds from their glass dome

and fly……….


View Poem Archive