The spear thrust in front of the pavilion
announced that the Khan was seriously ill.
First, and most importantly, among his four sons
he divided his far-flung territories,
the continent he had conquered in twenty years.
Then he called his sons to his bedside.
He gave them a single arrow. Break it, he said.
It was easily broken. Next, he gave them five arrows each.
Break them, he said. They couldn’t be broken. So you’ll
stick together, he said. He who’s on his own will be broken.
He dismissed his sons; his last task too was finished.
The great Khan turned over slowly in his bed,
brought before his eyes the world he had built,
the Caspian at one end, the Great Wall of China at the other.
I can die at last, he said. My forefathers await me
my grandsons will dress up in golden robes,
ride horses swifter than the wind
embrace the prettiest of women.
And, alas, they will forget
in whose debt they are for all that,
I haven’t the slightest doubt.