Peter J. King

Peter J. King

Peter J. King was born and brought up in Boston, Lincolnshire. Active on the London poetry scene in the 1970s as writer, performer, publisher, and editor, he returned to poetry in 2013 after a long absence, and has since been widely published in magazines and anthologies. He also translates poetry, mainly from modern Greek (with Andrea Christofidou) and German, writes short prose, and paints. His currently available collections are Adding Colours to the Chameleon (Wisdom’s Bottom Press) and All What Larkin (Albion Beatnik Press).

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The Church of Panaghia, Lindos

From blue and white whose
form is sunlight, where the heat
beats down upon my head and back,
and folds me in a world that smiles
and sits and sips and rattles
strings of brightly coloured beads —
into a bowl of shade.
Here the years are trapped,
made cloying, dark, and silent.

The battered frescoes stare
through centuries, through air
that holds itself apart, that never strays
into the streets outside.
This cool that shadows gold
and polished wood, that lies upon
the pebbles of the patterned
floor in black and white,
detains me here, and hints
at what I used to feel
when I believed in what
the builders of this church believed.

Last Words: John Keats (1795–1821)

I can feel the daisies growing over me.
              Their roots are at my feet,
       for I am buried shallow
and anonymous — the autumn raindrops
                                                     write my name upon
                                                         the dry Italian earth,
                                              and autumn storms
                                       dry out the words,
                                and cover all with leaves.
                                                                  Plant a pine above me,
                                                           set a bench beside it,
                                                    and come read to me
                                             of mushrooms growing in the shade.

Lion Cities: I. Mycenae

A billion stridulations fill the ovened air,
and almost drown the clanking bells
of scattered flocks of goats and goatlike sheep
that graze on meagre dusty grass
and spiky skeletons of shrubs.

Brown and dry the circling hills,
the great stones of the citadel
seem no less ancient;
it’s as if the wind and sun
have carved them by abrasion —
shabby jade from Greece’s bones.

Above the gateway’s massive lintel
rests an asymmetric triangle
of wind-worn limestone;
on it in relief a central pillar, flanked
by two huge lions in heraldic confrontation.
Rearing up, their fore-paws rest upon an altar,
heads and manes long lost —
yet entering beneath them takes some nerve.
They guard the treasury and tombs,
the royal palace, house of columns,
and the long descent to life in times of drought,
ghost-ridden by the centuries of violent death.

Published in The Win One 17, 2017


(after Kavafis)

The eldest son of Cleopatra
stands upon the steps of the Gymnasium
before the Alexandrians,
his rich and royal clothing gleaming
in the midday sun.
Slightly to his rear, his brothers
whisper jokes, but he can’t join them
in their muffled laughter.
Even when a soldier faints in the oppressive heat,
Caeasarion stays solemn, not a flicker
of a smile. A trumpet sounds.

Antony declares that Cleopatra
is the goddess Isis, Queen of Kings,
the Queen of Egypt and of Cyprus.
Their two young sons are named as Kings
of Syria, Cilicia, of Parthia, Armenia, and Media,
their daughter Cleopatra as the Queen
of Libya and Cyrenaica.

A pause. A drop of sweat begins to form
above Caesarion’s right eye; he feels it trickle
slowly down his cheek. The trumpet sounds.

The voice of Antony, his mother’s husband,
now goes up in volume but its pitch is lower.
It declares Caesarion to be the son
and rightful heir of Julius, who’s recently
been deified in Rome. And, as the offspring
of a god and goddess, he is therefore
doubly divine, and made the King of Kings,
joint ruler with his mother of the land of Egypt.
The small boy, dressed as Horus, somehow
stands erect and bears the cheering of the crowd,
in which he thinks to hear
an undertow of mockery.

Some four years later, at the age of seventeen,
the last of the unhappy line of Ptolemy,
Caesarion lies dead in Alexandria,
his crime: to be an excess Caesar.

Published in Sparks of Calliope, 3rd March 2021

Perhaps in Drifting

Perhaps in drifting I shall brush
against the sharp edge of a blade,
and shall not notice.
If it’s keen enough, or if
my body feathers light across
the steel, I’ll feel no pain.
Sometimes I tell myself
I’m in control; I choose to fall,
or choose to complicate this simple
motion. When the day is fine I
sit out in the sun and sip interminable
cups of coffee, and play tavli
with the priest. Sometimes the whiteness
of the walls is threatening;
I fear the tides that
lift me flotsam and transport me.

Sometimes I tell myself
that I am here on holiday — that when
my time is up I’ll go back somewhere,
somewhere far from here. I’ve
never managed to imagine where.
I am adrift, am blind, am stranded high
above the waterline.
Sometimes a single slow syrinx
mourns something ancient, floating
on the thyme and oregano heat.
I am too young to understand it.
Sometimes I am too young
to be afraid.

Published in The Interpreter’s House 65, 2017

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Poetry in this post: © Peter J. King
Published with the permission of Peter J. King