This was written at the behest of Lady S. as part of the “Marysville is hell” creative writing pledge drive. If you would like to commission a poem, short story or essay click here for details.
I begin with Hekate,
three-faced crazy witch goddess
dancing at the crossroads
with nooses in one set of hands,
blazing torches in the next,
and clutching snakes with her last.
Hear my cries and inspire this song
you who have witnessed rapes
and beheadings and bulls bleeding out roses,
O mystery-shrouded girlfriend of the vagabond,
charlatan, word-weaving, cattle-stealing priest
– Hermes, slayer of the many-eyed watcher of marriage’s goddess.
Hounds baying in the mist,
driven by the Huntress Hekate of the Three Ways
where the phallic pillar and mound of stones has been set up
to mark the boundary between this world
and the realm of dreams, that place
just across the river from the invisible house
where souls dance with masquerade masks
and it’s always 13 o’clock, always.
The dead under the hill,
like bears sleeping through winter, dreaming
strange dreams and waiting for the sun to rouse
the flowers and the marriage of the queen to the underground prince
in the ox-shed while the Keres roam the earth,
black shells of fate shed in death,
fates intoxicated by new wine and the ecstatic, mournful dirges
of slave women from Karia, serving the lordly Athenians
– except on this night when they’re free, freed to wander
by the snake-twined staff of Kyllenian Hermes,
son of an obscure nymph and the master of heaven and earth.
Is it any wonder he wanted to be famous, famous at any cost,
coming from parents such as these?
He schemed, he contrived, he stole, he killed and lied
– all to earn a place for his mother and himself
on the mountain of the gods.
He’d be damned before he let his nymph mother be forgot
in some out of the way cave.
And when he saw her sipping ambrosia and swapping stories with ox-eyed Hera
he knew it had all been worth it.
Truly, that was the second gladdest day
of cunning Hermes’ immortal life.
The gladdest? When he held the infant Bakchos in his stealthy arms
and told him not to weep, for he had come to earth
to be a joy to mortalkind.
To Savage Zagreus
He knew little enough of joy in his short life.
Once Zagreus was joyous,
when his heavenly father placed him on the throne
and let him squeeze the fiery scepter in his plump palm.
For a moment — just a moment — he was the all-powerful ruler of the cosmos
and could see from that exalted height all that had come before
and all that was to transpire.
He shrieked in terror and the flaming scepter tumbled to the ground
and shattered, shattered into a thousand irreparable pieces.
He just hasn’t been the same since
and won’t speak a word of what he saw
no matter how much father Zeus pleads with him.
Later Zeus stood in the dark chamber
and breathed in the smoke rising from the charred remains
of the cannibal Titans, fat with the meat of his beloved son.
He held the boy’s heart in his massive fist
and conceived a plan for how he’d plant the grapeseed
in a fertile royal womb
so that humans could become divinely intoxicated
from the blood of laughter-loving Dionysos.
He breathed heavily of those fumes
as he dreamed his mad fantasy of rebirth,
breathed into himself the essence of earth’s companion,
the great midnight hunter.
This divine inhalation mixed with his own awesome might to produce
the thundering storm that suddenly sweeps across the Thracian plain,
rich in horses and beer-swilling, berserk warriors, snake-carressing
transvestite shamans and the orgiastic goddess who dips her devotees
under the waves and raises them up to be stars in the dark cloak of night.
Sabazios they named the fruit of that strange union,
and a great god became he.
God of snakes, god of gates, god of horse cries in the middle of the night,
god of pine-spears and beer-frenzy, god of the hunt,
god of the hunt, god of the hunt
and friend of Pan, faithful hound of the Great Mother.
Goat-faced and man-limbed lord of all
shepherds, singers of bucolic verse
and randy perverts trying to woo
violet-eyed maidens of the mountainside
just like you in hot pursuit of the sad-hearted girl
who lost herself and fell down a well of despair so that all that remained
was the sound of her voice, crying “Please remember me.”
You have never loved another, O Pan, as you loved her,
loved her above even the love that Harlequin felt for his dove,
mirror image of Venus Erycina.
Columbina men called her when she dwelt among the living.
She has another name now, a secret known only by the few.
Before her there was another;
a princess from a far off land
– Venice, perhaps, or Crete or maybe she was even Maltese.
It happened so long ago it’s hard to keep the details straight.
Even he has trouble himself
– he’s been oh so many men since he was known as King Herla of the Britons.
But he remembers the flowery blush of her cheeks,
her golden ringlets, her delicately firm breasts
and that look she’d get in her eyes when she spoke his name
as he moved within her.
Many a man has he been since then,
many lads and lasses has he taken to bed
– but none compare to the dear, the radiant Isabella.
Perhaps he feels so fondly about her
because he never got to see the woman she became
when she grew old and lost her luster
– she had long since turned to dust by the time he emerged from the fairy hole
stuffed with exotic fruit and woozy-headed from their elderberry liqueurs.
Three hundred years he spent down below, feasting and dancing
in celebration of the marriage of the hairy dwarf with the fawn-skin cape,
Seilenos the much-honored groom and foster-father of Bakchos
– though it seemed to him that only a single night had passed in gay revelry.
He learned well the hard lesson that once you’ve tasted otherworldly fare
you’re never the same again. It makes you hollow and strange,
unsatisfied with conventional life, chasing always after the impossible,
craving wonders and constantly trying to get back to the other side.
In time the longing drove him mad
so that when he wasn’t laughing he cried and screamed and tried to kill himself.
But he couldn’t die, having imbibed the wine of Faerie.
So he painted his face and pretended to be other people,
anyone other than the man he had once been,
hunter king and tragic lover.
Instead he’d play the lowly scheming servant, the always hungry clown
and laugh and laugh and laugh,
ever laughing no matter how fucking mad and murderous he felt.
Not all his incarnations were so Pagliaccian though.
To Jim Morrison
Once he put on the leather pants and lizard crown
and strutted across the stage to exorcise the ghosts
of dead Indians scattered on a California highway
through his whiskey-soaked dithyrambic singing,
making himself a beautiful and disturbing spectacle
as he spins around and falls
and rises up like a god-possessed prophet,
like a bull stomping its rage in the dark, dark labyrinth
hungry for the flesh of his sister, the Queen.
And another time he wore the face of a wild, maniac magician,
a negro with serpent-kissed eyes that saw behind the curtain
where the poets, cosmetologists and dramaturgists were busy
fabricating the world around him.
Everything he’d ever known or seen or experienced
was just a myth and he but a cunning thespian
masterfully reciting his lines.
We aren’t ever supposed to learn such things about ourselves
– it does funny things to the brain and can ruin the performance.
Not his, though.
When Melampos looked away and was returned to himself
he executed his role with enviable verve.
Such gusto! Such pathos!
He taught the Greeks to dance the goat-scream dance,
to fear the mask on the pillar,
to rejoice at the sight of a massive cock
full of Spring’s ripe promise
and above all he taught them to pay attention to their dreams,
for dreams are how the dead visit
and the gods speak with us.
(You who read the runes of this poem now — remember the next dream you have for these words
open the gate of your mind and will let important things through. You have been warned.)
This great man who drove the impious, sex-craved princesses, faces red with the gore of their sons,
down from the mountain and into the stark sanity of anagnorisis
– him do we honor, the first prophet among the Dionysians,
the reason why the Harlequin mask is always black.
Black like the hairs on the legs of the girl swinging from the tree
in the dance of life’s last spasm, thinking only of the shadow-faced stranger who waits
across the shore of the lake, beckoning
her to come over to his side and wear his ivy crown with pride,
to be his beautiful and mad, mad bride.
Death is not the end
– have you not heard the words of the universalists,
that it is a passage into mystery, transformation
and reemergence as a star blazing in the night,
guiding the way for the wine-flushed bacchanals below,
hunting their prey and baying at the moon like lycosidae,
fangs bared and sinking into tender virgin flesh,
dripping poison into the blood so that it boils
in a fever that can be soothed
only by being led into a dark copse of pine
and moist moss beneath her naked feet
so she can dance the spiders out of her body
through her sweat and tears and screams
and all that calms her is the strand of black-leafed ivy
and the crimson sash and the mirror and the spear.
But when these are taken from her sight
a fit of frenzy falls upon her and she flings herself to the floor
crawling grotesquely on her back, body contorted in an inhuman way.
Then finally, after three days of constant dancing, constant playing
to the point where the fiddlers and drummers and the boy with the concertina
were about to give up, weary and way past exhaustion
– that’s when the girl convulsed and collapsed,
saying that the headless martyr had filled her sinful flesh
with the potent seed of his grace and forgetfulness of the past.
She was cured! Saved!
And dead before she got the last syllable out.
She went deep below
where the maiden queen with the iron crown and the radiant voice dwells.
Shall I sing of what comes next?
Tell a tale of ancient grief, mythic loss and woe?
No. Not the story you know –
when her father found her in a cave,
weaving an image of the world
and he slid up her tender thigh in the form of a snake
and begot a bull-horned son to be his successor.
Nor when she was out picking flowers with the fairies and Hekate in the fertile plain of Nysa
when all of a sudden the thunder of invisible steeds surrounded her
and before she could scream a black hand reached up,
grabbed her by the throat, and dragged her down below to be with him.
No, not then either. Nor do I mean
that time when she competed with love’s goddess for the affections of the fair,
angelic and golden Lord of the eastern lands.
His eyes were like lapis lazuli, his tears like fragrant myrrh,
his hair reddish-brown as the cedars of his home country.
Aphrodite claimed the boy first,
but she feared lest her manly suitors might rape him,
so delectable was Adonis;
so she shut him up in a chest
– double of the chest that washed ashore at Oreiatai –
and gave it to the death goddess for safe keeping.
She made Persephone swear not to sneak a look at its contents, and she swore
– but come on, with a buildup like that how could she resist?
Overcome by curiosity she broke the lock and pried the lid off
and the breath would have caught in her throat when she saw the handsome boy,
if she still required breath.
Oh, one look at him and she was instantly smitten. She dragged him free
and hid him away in her subterranean castle, a place even her husband did not know existed.
Then she went back and filled the chest with a corpulent dwarf,
an expert mime and tumbler who’d come to her domain when he drowned himself
for love of Isabella, too busy pining for her absent husband
to notice the ardour of his affection. It seemed a fair trade to Persephone
– he really was a very accomplished buffoon — but Aphrodite didn’t quite agree.
She raged and howled and warred against the dark maiden,
but no matter how much Demeter’s daughter suffered,
she would not give up the object of her desire.
It got so bad that Zeus above himself had to intervene.
He listened sagely to both sides then gave forth this counsel:
“The boy shall be shared between you
– two-thirds of the year shall he abide in gloom and despair
with the skull-fondling Persephatta,
and the rest of his days shall be spent in the perfumed embrace of Kythereia,
queen of harlots, whose carriage drawn by white doves is cushioned
with palpitating human hearts.”
So spoke Zeus who gathers the clouds,
and the son of Kronos nodded his head with his dark brows,
and the immortally anointed hair of the great god swayed
and all of Olympos was shaken
and behold, both parties were pleased to accept the bargain.
Persephone, for she got the largest share
and Aphrodite because nothing heightens libido like death.
What a shame none bothered to ask Adonis what he wanted.
Nope. Not the story I mean either.
I’m talking about the time identities got shifted around
like masks swapped at a magic ball,
when gods forgot their godhood and tumbled down the tunnel of the fox’s den
until they came out the other side with mortal thoughts in their minds
and ill-fitting human flesh draped over their fiery, celestial form.
They were people now
– human, all too human,
with only a dim recollection of the wind-swept, forested heights of Mount Olympos
and the lives they had led there.
The memory was always strongest when they danced or dreamed or got drunk and fucked.
In these moments they could almost taste the wine of eternity once more.
One day they would find their way back home.
So ends my song.