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30/11/2011

Saffron

Paul Muldoon

Sometimes I’d happen on Alexander and Cleopatra
and several of their collaborators
tucking into a paella
tinged with saffron, saffron thought to be a cure
for scabies, bloody scours,
fires in the belly,

skin cancer, the ancient pestilence of Sumer,
not to speak of Alzheimer’s
and plain old melancholy.
I’m pretty sure things first
started to look bleak in 1987 at the University
of East Anglia

where I was introduced to the art of the lament
by Ezekiel. His electric fire’s single element
was an orange ice lolly.
He made me think I might lose my spot
as number one hod-carrier in Mesopotamia,
a role that came quite easily

now I lived in a ziggurat
overlooking a man-made lake and sipped sugared
water with a swarm of honeybees.
Though A Flock of Seagulls
were scheduled to play the Union, there had been an icicle
in my heart since Anubis,

half-man, half-jackal,
had palmed me off on Ezekiel
for ritual embalmment.
He claimed A Flock of Seagulls were a one-hit wonder,
desert flowers left high and dry
on the polder. Anubis refused to implement

the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
He also told me the church clock in Crimond
had sixty-one minutes
to the hour. Ezekiel, meanwhile, was convinced
that Creative Writing, still in its infancy,
would amount

to a bona fide
academic pursuit only if students weren’t spoon-fed
but came to think of literature
as magical rather than magisterial.
Saffron itself was derived from the three stamen-tufts of a sterile
crocus that, ground, were often adulterated

with turmeric. An icicle was formed
precisely because it would repeatedly warm
to the idea of camaraderie,
then repeatedly give in to chilliness.
I took comfort from the insistence of the anchoress, Julian,
on the utter

necessity of sin for self-knowledge, a theory I’d have to tout
to the Hare Krishna devotees
who’d sworn off sex outside procreation in marriage.
Sometimes I’d see one, late at night, in saffron robe and topknot,
stranded at a bus stop
on the outskirts of Norwich.

 

© Paul Muldoon 2011. Extracted from Body of Work: 40 Years of Creative Writing
at UEA (Full Circle, £28)

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