Olympia

The ancient Greeks knew how to pick out a sacred spot,
I think when I first see Olympia, trees rippling
in the wind, and the ruins and calm, though that could be
because the parking lot is a long walk away,
and there are no cars or megalithic tour buses belching
smoke and carbon dioxide to ruffle the disposition
of the park with its paths through the excavations, the largest
ruin the temple where the giant statue of Zeus sat,
one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, a wooden
construction covered in ivory and gold, and Zeus
seems like an incarnation of Jehovah or Brahman,
god as grumpy old daddy, with the keys to the car
and the worst job in the world, which is running the world,
though people were probably a lot easier to scare
in 400 B.C., because our hearts hadn’t been hardened
by Saw, Nightmare on Elm Street, and all those
babysitter movies I’m glad I hadn’t seen when I was alone
in houses with little kids asleep upstairs,
the floors and walls creaking like mad. No, all old Zeus
had to do was throw a few lightning bolts
and everyone hopped to, though he had to deal with Hera,
who was not happy about Leda, Europe, Danaë,
and all the other gals that Zeus was dallying with, even if he
had the presence of mind to transform himself
into a swan, but what about Leda? How would you like
to be sitting around dreaming of a local shepherd
and this giant swan swoops down and does what?
Even Leonardo couldn’t figure out the logistics
of that neck, and Danaë probably felt like a prostitute
in that shower of gold, and at Olympia,

Hera has her own temple, which is older than the one
for Zeus, and I like to think of her as queen
of the world rather than a harridan in a fifties kitchen,
and she was in charge of Olympia before Zeus
took over. So who was really in charge? Am I in charge
of myself? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.
Was Jehovah in charge of the Middle East and Zeus
in charge of Greece until the Romans took over
and then he was call Almighty Jove? Who’s the big kahuna,
now that no one believes in anything, except, of course,
the true believers, and God knows what’s going on there,
but stashing guns and canned corn for the break-down
of social order. How did I get from Olympia to Idaho?
Oh, the human mind is a roller coaster ride
at the funny farm with lots of jalapenos if you’re lucky,
and fireworks and candy, and sex. Did I mention sex?
Which some people like even more than chocolate or music.
Here’s your music, Zeus—the wind in the trees.

 

Barbara Hamby’s sixth book of poems is Bird Odyssey (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). Poems in that book were first published in The New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and Plume.

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