Long before he left you on the white beach
of Naxos, there had been dreams: not kind
ones of bird hearts and roasted oxen, but
those of brotherly howls and beating swords.
You ignored them.
And still they came to you in the bath,
in the night, when even the crow had closed
up shop and sought the tree far from
the forestís dark, where an arc of moon
could light the tips of waves.
You went anyway, of course; sailed off in
his black-sailed ship, lost only in the stars
you had conjured to point to nothing less
than an ideal time filled with him:
his leaving was not a thought.
You slept among dreams of horns and screams;
the paternal blood and maternal lust
seeped out onto the sheets. A brotherís cry:
steeled, cold, endless as the paths that led
a lover to your sin.
Then off you went, the sail filled with
Athensí wind. But here where you stopped
amid the oldest coral, the oldest
lie is told. And when you wake, you still
believe that heís your man.
The wind turns cold and waves rise in
anger: heís gone. No words written, no
token of starfish and shells: gone.
On the seam of sea and sky the sail
flutters and fills. Gone.
And you walk the white beach, stepping in prints
left by the dancers once dying, now alive;
the lapping of water at your feet
neither cool nor purging, chills the heart
of the shipwrecked saint.
Your dreams are filled with gods;
your heart with urchin spines.
Look seaward and weep with
the wind that whips your trust:
he has left. Thatís all.
Two thousand years and the sand gives
up nothing but the idea of the lost:
bones, lust, greed, fame.
Sunlight beats upon the white beach-
and still, heís gone.
I do not blame the mirror, a gift from
my husbandís brother; it never gave in
its triple brass finish, the fire on
the walls, or echoed the wailing of the
mothers and children- all put to the sword
on my behalf.
I do not blame the gods
for what I wished for: the wife of a rough
king whose body is as coarse as the boar
he loves to hunt- no, I have done what I
have to feel with my hands and heart what I
dream of, still in these rude winters of Sparta:
a childlike sigh, wafting through linen
curtains, riding on the soft crests of smooth
seas, ending in my ear carried by a
breath so sweet. The taut body that lies with-
in the same curves as mine, whose arms glisten
in the dying lamplight- if only for
these brief ten years. Time has been kind to me.
My husband spends his days with his horses;
though he often smiles during supper,
and continues to offer golden charms
from Troy. I no longer taste the blood
and smoke on his lips; I cannot see in
his eyes the death of my prince.
I am not an entangler of men, nor
am I one granted madness by the god;
I dream, and so I am haunted each day
by my own cries as my hands are ripped from
the Palladium and I am pillaged
by one Greek and then another, until
my blood is as common as air.
who live in this doomed citadel do not see
their own gods deserting the cradles of
a race that will cease to be. They do not
sense the divine shifts in wind upon their
arms, nor the stirring of serpents in the
sea. Their sun-baked streets, each stone in its place,
will grow cold and flow with the water of
their empty wombs, barely enough to slake
the thirst for death.
Priamís tower rising
into a firestorm night, shrines of our
gods, useless in their burning, the gnarling
of dying, the dying, the dying- all
souls rising in a divine wind, winding
into a skein that skews left, then right, on
a relentless path to the stories of
The burning of leaves, like an elegy of war,
is not for public taste; it is in fact
an illegal act, banned by town
fathers and mothers who drive
daughters with budding breasts
and sons in plastic armor
from one struggle to another.
I miss the acrid smoke that flowed
in autumnal winds, swirling above
a figure with rake and pride- as if
the simple act of piling leaves
acknowledged the passing of
seasons and a mastery of time.
The fire, when lit, would flare
in a brief mix of flame and smoke,
then rush through the layers
of russet, yellow, and brown-
all sparking into one burn-
a parting act, like a hurried kiss
before the train pulls out.
If leaves have souls, then fire
frees them in a final rage-
a good ending. Better a burnt
offering than the decay and rot
of heaps and piles. The gods of
autumn must be pleased.
Tony Demarest received his Ph.D. in Old English and Old Norse Literature from Fordham University in 1975. He has published poetry in Segue, Polyphony, and the venerable New York Quarterly where he recently gave a poetry reading. He is presently professor of medieval literature at Felician College in Lodi, NJ.
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