Douglas Clark: Hulagu's Ride

1. The Oxus, 1 January 1256

Hulagu, grandson to Chingis,
brother to Mongke Khan, the Lord of All the World,
Two years to collect the army at Samarkand
For the campaign.
Whilst Mongke, at Karakorum,
Prepares simultaneously against the Sung.
Hulagu, `as far as the borders of Egypt',
his remit.
The year breaks and the horsemen ride,
Europe so unimportant,
The fabulous world of Islam exposed,
The most beautiful civilisation extant.

My father died 20th February 1983
Of a heart attack.
It ripped my soul as I realised
I was the only one who understood his miserable life,
And how he had left nothing behind
To demonstrate his existence.
One day that summer I went mad,
One of the most marvellous experiences of my life,
Susan's voice and the mandalas,
The men in their blue jeans and the women in pink dresses,
The underlying pattern to the world.
That day cannot be described because of the horror.
Later, in hospital, diagnosed with incurable blood disease,
My time was short.
But the moment I was well the design and writing
Of my first book Troubador, a cathedral to Susan.
And the setting-up of The Benjamin Press.
I was going to live forever.

Hulagu, the Buddhist, had the Christian
Ked-Buqa as commander.
The Mongol leadership was heavily Christian.
The great campaign against Islam commences.
The skills learnt at the feet of Chingis and Subotei
Were to be realised.
Sultans, emirs, atabaks pay homage,
From as far apart as Asia Minor and Herat.

2. The Assassins

First the Elburz.
Through Balkh and Gerdkuh in Khurasan.
The Chinese engineers besiege the fortress of Alamut.
The Grand Master of the Assassins,
Rukh ad-Din, negotiates.
Imprisoned, and two hundred castles fall,
The garrisons executed.
Rukh ad-Din paraded before the walls
To encourage surrender.
Gibbon rejoiced at the destruction of the Assassins:
`a service to mankind.'
`the world has been cleansed', commented Juvaini.
The Assassins expunged from Persia.

For my mother's 80th birthday, 8th July 1988, Horsemen.
I designed the book in my head on the beach at Crete,
with many Cat Poems still to write,
My present to her, with love.
My mother with her lack of adult emotion,
Who constructed a wealthy material world around me
As compensation.
Horsemen, fantasies to avoid the absence of Susan,
The Mong, written in the summer of '72 for Fiona.

3. Baghdad, 13 February 1358

Georgian Christians, Baiju's petty warlords,
The touman ride on Baghdad.
Caliph Mustasim's minister Ibn al-Alkami assures
`The danger is not great'.
The Sunni world would have mustered from as far as Morocco
To defend Baghdad, jewel of Islam.
al-Alkami, an isolate Shia, ignores them.
The sack of Baghdad begins.
Magnificent mosques,
Vast libraries of Persian and Arabic literature,
The greatest university in the world,
Palaces, palaces, palaces.
Burnt and the men killed.
Women and children herded to Karakorum as slaves,
With all the treasure of the Abbasids.
The Caliph and his family invited to a banquet by Hulagu.
Afterwards sewn in the customary Mongol carpet,
Trampled to death by the hooves of Mongol horses.
Treacherous al-Alkami keeps his position.
The dynasty of the Abbasids ends after 500 years.

In 1988, after Horsemen, my blood disease acted up,
And wasn't diagnosed by my Australian GP.
My walking became erratic.
Something was wrong in my head, my arm, my balance.
I had a stroke.
Double vision, paralysis, not in one piece anymore,
Treated, the desperate race against time in full flood.
I set out my life in the poems of Coatham.
Written in one continuous surge,
As Patricia recovered from her operation.
The story of the great house from which I came.
I thought that would be the end of me.

4. Aleppo, 20 January 1260

East of the Tigris, taken. Now Syria.
Kamil Muhammad of Mayyafarakin treacherous.
Slice off pieces of his flesh
And stuff it down his living throat.
The Prince of Mosul places gold earings on Hulagu's lobes.
A private joke that he will take the upstart by his ears.
al-Nasir, Sultan of Syria, is `doomed to fall'.
Surrender and be executed.
The Sultan turns to his enemy Cairo. The Mamluks ignore him.
Hulagu over the Tigris,
Harran, Nasibin, Edessa.
A pontoon bridge over the Euphrates at Manbij.
A staggering 300,000 men.
Turan Shah defends Aleppo, and surrendering
Is spared. A rare event. A brave old man.
The men killed. Women and children to Karakorum as slaves.
Damascus surrenders to Ked-Buqa.
A unique Christian alliance
Ked-Buqa, King Hayton of Armenia, Count Bohemund of Antioch,
A celebratory Mass held in a converted mosque.
Through Samaria south to Gaza. captured. killed.
To the Mamluks of Egypt:
`At present you are the only enemy against
whom we have to ride.'

Disbanded, the extra book, the history of Susan.
The dreadful race to finish it through 1990
The blood clots looking over my shoulder.
The relief at completion and the rush to publish
After my mother's death. Dying cursing me.
The joy in the final poems. Exultant.
The lifetime's crown achieved.
Now nothing would ever matter again.

5. Ayn Jalut, 3 September 1260

From crusader castles Krak des Chevaliers to Acre
The argument rages.
Throw in your lot with the Mongols or be impartial.
Anno von Sangherhausen, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights,
Encourages alliance.
Berke Khan sends Burundai to destroy Poland and they think again.
Mongke Khan's death saves Islam, as Ogedei's saved Europe.
Hulagu withdraws from Syria to Maragheh.
But Ked-Buqa left in Damascus.
Crusader lords Julian of Sidon and John of Beirut
Raid the Mongols.
Ked-Buqa sacks Sidon. Destroy's John's Templars.
The Mamluks ponder Hulagu's demand for surrender
And learn that the Mongols are weakened.
Qutuz, Mamluk commander, is fired to serve Islam and civilisation.
Sends emissaries to the crusaders asking for alliance.
The crusaders do not impede Qutuz' ride north
Through Gaza to Acre.
Ked-Buqa, with two touman out of Damascus, crosses the Jordan.
At Ayn Jalut, Goliath's spring, where David triumphed
The Mamluks out-general the Mongols.
Ked-Buqa's head on a staff to Cairo.
The Mongol myth broken,
Fallible as any other army.
But Hulagu will never return.

I am made redundant and publish Dysholm,
The postscript to the four books of the Trilogy,
Disbanded being the coda.
Listed in the TLS but never reviewed.
Then the writing of Skiathos and the
Assembling of the Selected Poems.
The life-work complete.
The drugs for my `thick blood' seem to be working.
The biochemists are on my side.
Debility vanishes as I have pills for my hiatus hernia.
Schizophrenia is far away because of the injections.
There I saw farther into life than any man alive.
I am enjoying my lovely time.
I might even grow old.

Hulagu: `You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have purified the earth of disorders which tainted it. It is for you to fly and us to pursue, and whither will you fly, and by what road will you escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor arms stop us: your prayers to heaven will not avail against us.'

[First published in `The Poet's Voice', Issue 3.2, Winter 1996/97]