Lady Hester Stanhope
(born in Chevening, Southeast England, 1776 – 1839)
That wacky Lady Hester had her own room and dough.
After her employer, the British Prime Minister and bachelor,
beloved uncle William Pitt, died mildly in wealth,
the state assigned her
an enviable sum --
£1200 a month.
British high society was stunned –
convulsed like the form of her red high-heels.
Years later she jumped
from the bottom of crystal glasses, through monocles,
towards the flying carpets and
tender birds of oriental letters.
She was 33.
Exploring Ashkelon she knew
this quest would be known
as the first modern trek through the Holy land.
Romantics and celebrities admired;
they say when she came to Athens,
the drunken Lord Byron leapt in the sea
in proper welcome, like some male siren.
After the shipwreck near Cairo she lost all, took off
her thin dress, donned men’s waterproof clothing
and continued towards the spicy East.
Refusing the veil
she tore down every wall and veil of this world
until, with twenty-two camels,
she broke through eastern cities’ brass gates
tearing their strict laws apart.
With her nose-tip pointing towards Palmyra,
she crossed a desert of scorpions and Bedouins
became the only woman
welcomed with a laurel crown
in that strange city.
From then the turban on her shaved head
was as a fat ouroboros
gnawing at its own ego-tail.
Emir Mahannah el Fadel was not alone
in dubbing her Queen Hester. But the ancient clay
laughed at those titles.
She sought gold florins buried under Gaza,
yet only unearthed a seven-legged, headless
marble statue. Like an omen! She smashed and threw it
in the hungry gullet of the sea.
she gave away her camels,
found peace in the Mar Elias monastery;
later atop Sidon hill in a house she called Dahr El Sitt,
she welcomed hundreds of refugees, ruled the region
with her monthly pension and lavish gifts.
The secret words of the desert wind
she translated to her whim:
I am the Morning Star, principal rider of this world.
At last, despite the silk, the alabaster and cashmere
she sank into senility, robbed by her servants.
she did not write in her cell, just lay alone
with two hunchbacked horses
seemingly sacred to her
in place of a bed –
received guests only at nightfall,
not wanting them to see her human
(all-too-human) face and hands,
walled into that fortress on the hill
like an idol, like a statue.
Translated by Miloš Đuđević and Damir Šodan