Civilisation

Ange Mlinko

I

The Venetians, the Venetians –
          you hear about the Venetians
picking off the black grapes of Izmir
          or seizing a ship
bound for Egypt, to trigger a
          war for Crete; grabbing the wrong rein
in the king’s convoy, causing riots;
          leaving their powder in the
Parthenon, to explode and singe
          the ancient trees to extinction
along with the friezes and free-
          standing tibias of Phidias
and Praxiteles. So when a
          ruddy dove, as if burnt by sunset,
staggers onto the balcony
          on the day the tripped munitions
kill more than a dozen
          and destroy a power plant
months after being intercepted
          on a ship bound for a Syrian port,
the first thing I think is
          ‘The Venetians! The Venetians!’
collapsing the shelves
          while olive silvers …

II

The Dutch called their money florins,
          and their borrowed flora,
which didn’t smell, made money.
          They didn’t smell,
those tulips from the east.
          The east,
          whose aitches and hitches –
an ‘a’a’ like ‘raw almond’ –
          alternated
like the arabesques in assassins.
          The Dutch were so proud
of their invincible navy ships
          and varieties of tulips
that, crossing ‘Virgin’
          with ‘Admiral Enckhuysen’,
or ‘Diana’ with ‘Semper Augustus’,
          they bred, by and by,
          ‘General Bol’ and ‘Admiral Hoorn’
and sent their waves
          on tiptoe.