Marvin Lurie

Xerxes’ Stonemason (Seen at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

I don't know your name,
only your mark:
two point-to-point reclining diamonds
hidden in the design
claiming an arms-length piece of gray stone lintel
with its frieze of standing lions
chiseled for the coming in and going out of Xerxes.

But I can see you from here,
in a dusty work yard under the Persian sun
surrounded by piles of uncut stone.
You have a leather apron and palm pads
fight hard stone with soft iron,
eat your lunch of lentils, rice and flat bread,
trade the rough humor and banter of laborers.

I want to tell you,
the palaces of Xerxes are pulled down,
their pieces collected and displayed in museums,
but your mark survives, declares
the hard work of building empires
is done with hammers, chisels and sweat,
by proud builders who mark their work.

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