The Inca Kings

Who stole the kings? Even Pachacutec’s
mummy now is gone from Lima’s hospital
display of Inca royalty—the T-Rex
of them all, ferocity turned brittle

bones and shrunken body in a sack,
worthless to invaders seeking gold.
The wisdom of the panther run amok,
hapless Incas lost their kings to mold

and priests who scattered them like arthropods.
But to their subjects?— Royals’ empty shells
held souls of soaring condors, splendid gods,
in whose dead eyes the Starry River dwells,

who witnessed sacred rites as honored guests:
served, as if alive, the food and drink.
For years the faithful carried them, obsessed,
from home to home, convinced these hulls could link

death to life, and power to poverty.
They’d seen magnificence at dizzying height
terraced, made productive—and the sea
of brambles cleared for pathways underfoot

as Pachacutec’s broad, insatiable mind
planned an ecstasy of social power
where mountain range and human forged a bond
submitting each to each. It stood an hour

in geologic time, then slipped away,
old victories still marked on knotted strings
whose code is lost. Now Cuzco streets convey
on aging women’s feet, the dust of kings.



The Swimming Lesson

We learned to swim through rapids in the river,
except for me. Their method’s flaws seemed obvious.
Dive upstream, let raging waters sever
all ties with life, and then pop out, impervious.
Don’t be scared, it’s easy! See—your sister!
She sunbathed on a rock, a distant Venus.
Her soft arms must have battle-gear sequestered
within, and that’s the difference between us.
I stood high on a boulder, in a trance,
then plunged, thoughtless, battling the torrent
whose sinews bear-hugged me, a hard slow dance
silenced in the world under its current
by death, eternity—about a minute,
but no one saw if I was out—or in it.



Elegy for Mary

My sister, unlike me, was royalty;
her coif demure, her posture wouldn’t yield.
Her demeanor: wind over a field,
a gentle pressure, cool, grandmotherly.

Her laughter whinnied, a calliope
of jovial confusion, reined by wit—
but faster steeds were chomping at the bit—
polite restraint, her favored recipe.

Her firm hands guided mine when I was small.
She could have sailed majestic ships to port—
instead, she plowed the ocean with her heart,
whose sails unfurled through turbulence and squall.

Through well-bred reticence, her kingdom fell,
the golden sheen of childhood torn away.
They turned their backs on coronation day—
she donned a gray suit, left with eyes of steel.

She knew the watchtowers, climbed the winding stair.
Her feet paced softly in the upper rooms.
Their walls enclosed her like pretentious tombs—
her private sobs fell slowly through the air.

Music’s domain then offered her a throne:
she sung for the uncrowned, the missing war,
abandoned heroes, disenfranchised lore.
Her voice re-christened sacred ships and stone.

Incapable of roughness, she’d believe
the lies of men, until they turned on her,
and as her fadeout reached the sepulchre,
she wondered, Who remembers? Who will grieve?

I wander sadly, past a full-blood mare
galloping through fields up to a cliff.
And there a message waits for me: What if?
A lost embrace, a sceptre, and her stare.



Siham Karami is the author of To Love the River (Kelsay Books, 2018), a poetry collection which  features sonnets, ghazals, villanelles, and more, including poems in forms of her own invention. Her work has been published in The Orison Anthology, Able Muse, The Comstock Review, Measure, Tiferet Journal, and Poetry International, among others. Her sonnets have twice won the Laureates’ Prize in the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, and her poetry has been nominated multiple times for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She blogs at sihamkarami.wordpress.com

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2 Responses

  1. David Watt

    Siham, I think you have done a good job of conveying the power of the Inca empire, and its fall to ‘the dust of kings’.
    Some of the rhyme pairings were not close enough for my liking. For example, in the third poem: royalty/grandmotherly, port/heart.
    In “The Swimming Lesson” the pairing of minute/in it is particularly effective.

    • Siham Karami

      Thanks for your comment, David! I’m glad you liked “The Inca Kings.” And yes, I confess to being a lover of slant rhyme as well as exact rhyme, both being, to my mind, tools used in classic poetry. However, one can definitely argue that some pairings are better than others.


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