I saw the rich giving workers either gold or silver or rice, but when they asked for their own reward, no one was left. —“The Message of King Sakis”
I dream suspended in a cage of talons. Below pass vast grasslands, a brown river that tears the land in two, then mountains and deserts and mountains again, and, just out of my grasp, the tops of trees only God could have planted. One day the walls of my kingdom will touch two oceans.
Over an open ocean, a great bird drops me for a fish that could feed my people an entire winter. I fall through cold salt water and land in an open oyster. In time, my skin turns smooth and opalescent until I become more pearl than man. When I wake, I know that Hell is not the oyster but the pearl inside—God, man, and devil born out of the irritation of a grain of sand.
Naked, I wander the woods for a safe place to sleep. The world is kind and gives me an abandoned snail shell. Inside, spirals curl into white distances. Outside, a cloud hangs from the moon like a threadbare coat. I labor through corridors of grass, hefting my home on my back.
I’ve had this dream before, I know. The boy who wanders the woods blindly calls from a hollow chestnut tree. When I look inside, the pulp crawls with bagworms. From this moment on, all houses in my kingdom must be built of stone.
A dozen black wolves sniff my motionless body. The wolf with yellow eyes drags me by my hair deep into her lair where two albino pups suckle from her swollen breasts. When I wake, I tell my soldiers to load their guns.
In this dream I am loved and feared for my golden touch. Throughout my long life my subjects keep their distance. They have learned the death of my caress. But they have also learned how to harvest endless wealth from death. Alone, I try to write my lonely story, but the pages become too heavy to turn.
I see my body ablaze, but there is no apotheosis. Rather, all of my people stoke the flames and dance in the strange light of my dying. When my last ember cools, they feed my ashes to the goats and pigs. Nothing of me survives.
Kip Knott has most recently published poems in Barrow Street, Virginia Quarterly Review, and 2River. He is also the author of four chapbooks of poetry: Afraid of Heaven (Mudlark), Everyday Elegies (Pudding House), Whisper Gallery (Mudlark), and The Weight of Smoke (Bottom Dog). In addition to teaching creative writing, American literature, and composition at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, Kip scours flea markets and antique stores throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky in search of vintage paintings, which he sells on his Etsy shop ArtfulPicker.
Acknowledgment: An earlier version of the “The Seven Dreams of An American King” was published in England in a magazine called Long Poem in 2010.