Sinbad, It Was Not Well to Brag

Clark Ashton Smith

Sinbad, the Barnacle Bill of Araby,
Carried upon his back the Old Man of the Sea,
Over crag, down ravine,
Round and round in a cane-brake green,
Tramp, tramp,
Under the coconuts, through the swamp,
Between the camphors, into the swale
Where the upas dropped its blooms of bale—
Tangling with the tough rattans,
Staggering under the hammers of noon
Over the sands
Of a steamy lagoon
A-crawl with crabs and bêche-de-mer—
Lurching through the gamboge glare
Of sunset into the damaskeened
Twilight where the tree-ferns leaned,
Chasing a saffron-bellied moon
That swayed like a drunken temple-girl
On beaches paved with coral and pearl—
Bemoaning his fate
Like the sad estate
Of a Baghdad porter, a Caliph's flunky—
Slipping on rotted mangosteens,
Tripping on jades and tourmalines,
Sliding on dung of tapir and monkey,
Startling the bug-eyed lemur, sending
The flying-fox to a farther landing,
Nights, days,
Half-blind in a clotted haze,
Hay-foot, straw-foot,
All in an Indonesian Tophet:—
Till, seeing the vines that ran
Over rock and tree he contrived a plan
More clever than rash,
And he made in a mighty calabash
From the island-grapes a vintage new
With bubbles like rubies clustering thick
And all the strength of an ostrich-kick;
And the old man sipped the sailor's brew
And swore by Allah's vicar
He had never tasted a better liquor,
Then took the calabash in his talons
And swigged the pints and swilled the gallons
Till even the thickest lees were downed,
And the grip of his arms and legs grew slack
On Sinbad's back,
And he slid at last to the jungle-ground,
Happy as a hinny
In the clover of June,
Soused like a sultan, full as any
Tick that drops from a fat baboon. . . .

This was the story that Sinbad
Told to astonish Hinbad:
The story was new,
Whether fantastic or true.

But, granting that your narration
Was free from extravagetion,
Sinbad, it was not well to brag
At the sunset end of your ocean-road:
For others have carried a heavier load
On aching shoulders a-sag—
A load that they could not lose.

My incubus is the classic hag
Yclept the Muse.

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