The Rough Guide to Croatia

The Rough Guide to Croatia

There’s a black sphinx in the city of Split
from Diocletian’s time. Her granite face
has watched the world turn for more than three millennia
(her eleven siblings were all beheaded),
her Egyptian cradle now a thing of the past.
Well, all cats have several homes. Now she sits,
her judge’s wig as natural as her human hands
coolly wrapped round her pot as she presides.

She alone endures. Her mere presence
rolls back the centuries like a Time Machine,
concatenating Egypt, Rome, the Adriatic
and the ages, emperors, dynasties she outlived.
Now she has settled into retirement,
her eyes weary from the glare of Ra, Sol, sun.

Note: The black granite sphinx, one of twelve which the emperor Diocletian took from Egypt to his palace in coastal Split in Croatia, reclines in the palace’s Peristyle, greeting visitors as they walk in and waiting patiently for them when they leave. I saw it myself when I was there in summer 2019. The Time Machine reference (capitalised to call to mind the first time machine, in H. G. Wells’s story) was suggested by the 1960 adaptation of Wells’s book, directed by George Pal, in which the White Sphinx of the novella becomes a Black Sphinx. Like the black sphinx of Split, Pal’s (and Wells’s) hybrid is a marker of human history viewed down the long lens.

This poem © Oliver Tearle 2021