Poem: Gloss

I started with alpha: Abdeluktos. / Above blame.

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I worked my way up by my wits, from clerk

to city Patriarch. I corrected

each schism, effaced the iconoclasts,

until our gilded streets turned black. And red.


In broken churches we counted the deaths.

I remembered a reed-slim boy of nine

or ten, the taste of his salt lips on mine –

weed-choked detritus dragged from Golden Horn.


Now terms were defined in my Lexicon.

I started with alpha: Abdeluktos.

Above blame. Any heretics tortured,

maimed. Absent of guilt. All Jews slaughtered.

[ b’del’uk’tos]. A sword hissing through bone.

Absolved. Assaults washed clean by each fresh gloss.


Josephine Balmer’s collections include The Word for Sorrow (Salt, new edition: 2013) and Chasing Catullus (Bloodaxe, new edition: 2016). Her translations include Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate (2004), Classical Women Poets (1996) and Sappho: Poems and Fragments (1992), all published by Bloodaxe.

This article appears in the 06 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's triumph

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