An old caravan trader tells a tale of treasure and greed in this long debut poem.
With a bit of cajoling, a group of children convinces an old trader who lives in the town’s “caravanserai” to tell them his story—one he seems reluctant to talk about. Years ago, in a time of war and instability, the trader traveled alone, attempting to make money in a neighboring city. He overheard two brothers discussing the location of a hidden treasure: a cup of great power that showed its owner visions of the past and future. The trader imagined himself in possession of it: “With such powers I could rule / with greater sanity, I swore, / than these cruel and heedless / rulers with their cruel and senseless wars.” He presented himself to the brothers as a desert guide, able to lead them to the remote Devil’s Springs that they sought. At the springs, the trader encountered the eponymous demon of the well, who made an infernal deal with the man in exchange for the cup. It was a pact that would have consequences that still plague the trader—and his country—in the storyteller’s present. Hendricks’ tale has an ancient quality to it that comes both from its setting and its form. Told in rhyming couplets, the poem reads like something concocted by one of the Fireside Poets: “I was growing quite impatient / when at last he reappeared. / And brandishing the magic cup, / he brought it up quite near. / ‘A bargain is a bargain / as a trader would agree. / And now for this handsome treasure / you must give your soul to me.’ ” The imagery, which the author says was inspired by the landscapes of the Tarim region in modern China and by the historical Silk Road, is evoked with skill and subtlety. There are a few lines where the rhymes feel forced or the rhythm gets clunky, but overall Hendricks manages to sustain an aura of mystery and magic. One could imagine hearing the poem read aloud around a summer campfire or on a chilly winter night.
An old-fashioned narrative poem that deftly captures the deadly wonder of the Silk Road.