I knew I had to take gold.
When it was brought from my treasury,
even I marveled at it.
It had come from a royal suppliant,
a small coffer chased in lions & suns.
Even he did not fully know how costly it is:
the metal shines with the sweat of slaves,
its beauty weighed by blood.
(I had dreamt that in another world
it is called the excrement of gods.)
It had to be the incorruptible measure of cost.
Once I knew I was going,
I knew what I would bring;
the casket of olibanum stood on the table,
white male frankincense, breast-shaped drops,
brought by a traveler from Hadramaut.
As I gazed at the sky
the three tears I had placed in the brazier
gave up their scent.
It smelled bitterly sweet, this clotted blood of trees,
This smoke holy to the rites of Isis,
this costly gum precious to Horus.
For every coming there is a going,
even for stars.
One is no more astounding than the other,
one is to be celebrated even as the other,
& I sent for the myrrh,
brown & bitter & costly,
brought long distances by a friend.
(He said that somewhere it is fed cows
to make their milk flow rich,)
incense for the gods,
unguent for the dead.
[From the records of a Galilean merchant late in the reign of
Herod the Great: "The census has been good for trade, praise the
Lord God. Prices are high and no one asks where the money comes
from. Today a clownish craftsman bought one of my good mules:
a gold box; two thick wool blankets: a pound of frankincense;
and wheat-bread, dried figs, three goat-skins of wine (for a long
trip, he said): one pound of myrrh."]