Brian Culhane

Remembering Lethe
February 14, 2015 Culhane Brian

Remembering Lethe


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.

Brian Culhane’s poetry has appeared widely in such journals as Blackbird, The Cincinnati ReviewThe Hudson Review, and The Paris Review. Awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson Prize, his first book, The King’s Question, was published by Graywolf Press. He’s received fellowships from Washington State’s Artist Trust, MacDowell, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. His second collection, Remembering Lethe, was published by Able Muse Press in 2021 and reviewed by Chelsea Wagenaar in Issue 127  of Plume.