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The Three Kings

We’ll arrive too late…
—André Frenaud, “The Three Kings”

If it hadn’t been for the desert and laughter and music—
we’d have made it, if our yearning
hadn’t mingled with the highways’ dust.
We saw poor countries, made still poorer
by their ancient hatred;
a train full of soldiers and refugees
stood waiting at a burning station.
We were heaped with great honors
so we thought—perhaps one of us
really is a king?
Spring meadows detained us, cowslips,
the glances of country maidens
hungry for a stranger’s love.
We made offerings to the gods, but we don’t know
if they recognized our faces
through the flame’s honey-gold veil.
Once we fell asleep and slept for many months,
but dreams raged in us, heavy, treacherous,
like surf beneath a full moon.
Fear awakened us and again we moved on,
cursing fate and filthy inns.
For four years a cold wind blew,
but the star was yellow, sewn carelessly
to a coat like a school insignia.
The taxi smelled of anise and the twentieth century,
the driver had a Russian accent.
Our ship sank, the plane shook suddenly.
We quarrelled violently and each of us
set out in search of a different hope.
I barely remember what we were looking for
and I’m not sure if a December night
will open up some day like
a camera’s eye.
Perhaps I’d be happy, live content
if it weren’t for the light that explodes
above the city walls each day
at dawn, blinding my desire.

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