|Sebald Beham, Achilles and Hector, Engraving from the 1500s,|
from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
So in my books I studied how I might
Defend myself when facing Cupid’s bow.
I learned how Helen, stolen or seduced,
Brought Greeks and Trojans both into the grave,
And how when Agamemnon had refused
To give Achilles back his comely slave,
Their quarrel nearly tore the Greeks apart
And sent them home from battle in defeat.
With knowledge such as this to guard my heart,
I’d soon have Cupid’s forces in retreat.
But you, surprising, perky, smart and tender,
Accomplished my immediate surrender.
~ Larry Turner
First published in Wanderer: Poems, Stories and Drama by Larry Turner.
He’s thinking perhaps of the exposed breast,
legs bare from boot top to kneecap. He’s thinking
warrior. Woman. I’m thinking river. Rainforest.
He says Achilles killed her, removed her helmet,
was so stunned by her splendor his heart stopped.
He says Achilles wept for love that might have been.
The river flows not from tear ducts but tributaries.
It’s not salt water but fresh. It shoves sediments
out to sea. It has no sword. While I think
of the Amazon’s mouth opening into the Atlantic,
he thinks of the Aegean Sea and the sneering lips
of the statue or sensuous lips of the lifeless woman
lifted by Achilles. He says the Amazons originated
in Pontus. I say the waters flow from peaks
in the Peruvian Andes. He lies on the love seat
pondering the sad end of Penthesilea. I order tickets
to tour Brazil and Peru, not Paris or Pontus.
This poem was first published in After Hours.
I lie dreaming of revenge. I’m a princess
fallow since last year. Cows and goats graze
this fertile valley feeding their babies above
me. Warm milk drips down into my lips.
They go home when the sun dips below
the horizon bordered by purple mountains.
Bound by the vow of purity, she refused
to vanquish her violator, but chose to die
in a blaze, promising to return another time
in another life to avenge. I am born out
of her ashes, annealed, hard and invisible.
from gods and till this precious field. I wait
for the touch of his golden plough.
In the light of dawn, I hear drumbeats
and thumping of animals. Bulls bend
their heads in reverence to me. I transform
into baby Sita and reach for Janak’s palm.
for me. I fear not tests of entering fire
to prove my purity or the banishment
to forest. I am sacred, a progeny of earth.
I exist to fulfill Vedavati’s promise.
The January Challenge is to submit a poem that revives, dialogues or argues with, or in some way engages with an ancient myth. If your poem uses a lesser-known myth or legend, please supply a link where we can read about it. Generally it is preferable to focus or myths or legends from your own cultural background instead of appropriating (or misappropriating) material from another culture. For this poetry challenge, do not make up a myth or legend.
Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “January Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio under the poem in your email.