Jonathan Taylor



(United Kingdom)



Supernova AD 185


For Will Buckingham*


This guest star in the Southern Gate Constellation

was the size of a bamboo mat, five-hued,

eliciting delight and fury in equal measure.

It appeared during the tenth month of the second year

of the Zhongping era – being the sixtieth year

of the astrological cycle. Its brightness diminished

over the next few months and, after six months, vanished.

All astronomers knew the light foretold a terrible disaster

which duly took place in Luoyang, four years later.

Yuan Shao, the respected Metropolitan Commandant,

murdered two thousand officials and eunuchs,

Then General in Chief Wu Kuang and his army

attacked and defeated the armies of He Miao

who was General of Chariots and Cavalry,

and the dead numbered many thousands of men.

Thus we are encircled by a million stars, permanent

and guest, each and every one of them

if read rightly foretelling a massacre to come.



*Based on a translation by Will Buckingham of the Book of the Later Han, c. AD 445 (Astronomy, Latter Section).




Supernova AD 1006; or, How to Get Ahead in the Workplace


After the biography of Chou K’o-ming, AD 954-1017*


During the third year of the Ching-tê reign

a guest star appeared west of Ti in the Lupus

constellation, three times the size of Venus,

casting shadows even during daytime.

Emperor Ching-tê and the people of Kaifong

were afraid it was coloured blue, a kuo-huang

or ill-omen portending calamity, warfare, famine.

Returning from his journey to Ling-nan,

Chou K’o-ming, Director of the Bureau

for Astronomy, consulted the T’ien-wên-lu

and Ching-chou-chan and declared instead

that since the star was yellow in colour

and huang-huang-jan in light this sign

was a Chou-po, a glorious omen or ching-hsing,

blessing a glorious Emperor and his nation

with much-deserved  prosperity. All were content

to believe him – and the star certainly

blessed Chou K’o-ming himself, for he was soon

promoted to Chief Librarian and official Escort

of the Crown Prince, in recognition of services

to astrology, prophecy and truth.



*As featured in David H. Clark and F. Richard Stephenson, The Historical Supernovae (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1977), p.116, and Paul and Lesley Murdin, Supernovae (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp.15-16.




The Tale of the King and the Ghost*


The beautiful ghost that appeared

before great King Neferkare

was neither from sky nor earth

but hovered somewhere between,

his tears ringing him like a halo.


The King was not frightened,

but addressed the spirit directly:

“Welcome back to Memphis

in the name of Ptah, my son.

Why do you weep this way?”


The ghost-boy answered:

“Don’t you know me, my Lord?

I am Khentyka’s son Snefer.

I cry because in Osiris’s realm

all that remains for me is the past,

while all you have is the future.

You can look to the rising sun

while I only ever see it setting.

We are forever sundered, Lord,

and however much I desire it

I can never again touch you.”


Then the King shed a tear too

because he had loved Snefer,

Khentyka’s boy, once. Hearing

of this grief, the necropolises

burst open and the Nile’s banks

overflowed with the tears

of ghosts who could no longer

touch the future, their grief

outweighing that of the living

as ten thousand deben

to a single feather.


The flood only abated after

many of the dead were reunited

with brothers and lovers

drowned by Anuket and Sobek.

Neferkare was not among them

and Snefer, Khentyka’s boy,

mournfully faded away

leaving his King to the future –

towards which the latter hurried

as if into the anaesthetizing

embrace of Ammit the Devourer.



*From the Middle Kingdom, 2000-1700 BC. Elaborated from the fragment translated by R. B. Parkinson.











Jonathan Taylor is an author, editor, lecturer and critic. His books include the novels Melissa (Salt, 2015) and Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), the poetry collection Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013), and the memoir Take Me Home: Parkinson’s, My Father, Myself (Granta Books, 2007). He is director of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. He lives in Leicestershire, in the UK, with his wife, the poet Maria Taylor, and their twin daughters, Miranda and Rosalind.



His website is :

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