Yesterday, a friend reached out:
So many of your poems are about
Ancient subjects. I don’t know
Those references, but nonetheless
I think what you do admirable.
Not to be understood is admirable
If seen in a certain light: a way
Of keeping up one’s old allusions.
Hardly what my teenage self
Had sought to wrap mind around
During lectures on the Greek nude
When slides taught me to embrace
New embodiments of grace and see
Why, expressionless and wooden,
The Kritios Boy is beautiful.
How was I to know that those
Deep images from my schooldays
Would be so crucial decades on?
How, before I’d ever climbed
Delphi’s crags, a vision of Delphi
Was to capture me so wholly
I could almost taste the fumes
That wound from the sacred fissure
At whose lip the priestess
Knelt to suck in the upwelling god.
My son once asked the name
Of that river in Hades said
To make the newly dead lose
Memory. Lethe? Lethe, I think.
In her last year, my mother
Gazed at me and saw no son
But her former husband. Shamus,
Come up here! She motioned
To the bed she lay on, and I
Answered with a stricken No.
No, she said, I want you up here.
I do not know why the scene
Fades: an unbridgeable gulf.
And what did we do afterwards?
Probably a wheelchair outing
To the Home’s garden where
She smiled at roses with the look
Of one who had known names
For this, this…. Sinking into sleep.
Did she understand she’d stay
In that place? Or how finally
A phone would waken her sons
With wished-for, dreaded news
Leading to a dawn flight toward
Frayed robes, unworn slippers?
Well, we would all be better for
A dip in Lethe water to ward off
The cold when the cold comes.
In a file I’ve kept my son’s crayon
Drawing of the souls gathered
By the riverside, their ferryman
Just a brown scribble bobbing
Next to stick figures on the bank
Ready for their mythic entrance
In a child’s long ago Show and Tell.