Two Poems

AFTER CALLIMACHUS

There are so many—too many,
say men who know nothing about it—divinities
who have given birth,
or live to serve women who do. So why
do those of us who struggle with balky wombs,
seven or nine months out, with not-yet-
visible infants inside them who tumble and roll,
who themselves tumble and roll
and yaw and pitch and cancel each night’s sleep,
or who during delivery,
between their gasps and outcries and clenched teeth
and asking for cold fresh water—why do they pray
so often to the goddess of the sharp
tooth and pure moon, to Artemis,
who runs barefoot and never loves a man?

Because she never loved a man, some say;
because she knows what you wish you could evade, right now,
and knows that she herself will forever evade it.
Others say: just because she is fleet of foot,
and serious, unlike the trickster god,
and figures out how to travel without delay,
even if she has never seen a path;
Hers is the night hunt, the goddess who finds the way.
I think there is another reason, though.
I think she is the only god or goddess
on the entire mountain of Olympia
or over or under or within sight of it
who neither gives orders to other divinities,
nor has ever tried, much less agreed, to obey.

[Aetia I, 79]

 

AFTER CALLIMACHUS

People are going to hate you once you’ve won.
You’re going to come home from the big game
bringing your reward, four teams of mules,
which you selected, out there near the capital,
so farmers would have an easier time this summer,
You took their household needs to heart.
But when you get home, they’re going to listen
to the spineless enemies, the secret spreaders of slander
who also count votes,
who say it’s all a trap, that you take bribes,
that you can’t be trusted, having learned
the language of the islands, and eaten odd fruit.
They will cast their bad ballots against you,
smash your ceramics, melt your bronze gods down,
break your kitchen table up for logs.
And later they’ll learn. Sooner or later they’ll learn
it’s slander. And then there will be another election,
and then the takers of bribes will be shown the door,
or possibly fed to the dogs.

[Aetia III, 84 + 85]

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