Don’t tell me I’ve got my facts wrong. Or fall to the fallacy of Freud, imagining only sons can threaten a father’s throne, or evoke a mother’s passion. I know a hero’s plotline when I’m born into one.
The Sphinx first tipped me off. I had come with a riddle of my own: What is happening to the babies? My princely brothers each disappearing as suddenly as he arrived, my mother’s arms empty as her belly again flat. “Oracles can be misheard,” the Sphinx said, with a shrug and rustle of her wings, “or misbelieved. Daughter, son, child who shall—“ She bent to sniff my offering: half a lunchtime pb-and-j and a handful of goldfish crackers, then lipped one cracker and crunched it, open-mouthed. “What oracles don’t? Is misspeak. Gotta listen with the same precision.”
I left her growling happily over my sandwich, lion’s tail curled around her paws like a housecat. Considered carefully her words. Came to a decision. Plotted my next moves. A culmination years in the making.
“He loves power. A terrible love.” —Euripedes, Iphigenia at Aulis
The day the great king sacrificed his child for favorable winds in recompense for some gravid deer killed in a sacred grove; —or perhaps the clean calculus of men with swords already thirsty, still a long voyage to Troy and wasn’t it her aunt who started this whole mess in the first place bitch Helen with her dimpled thighs so easily and so widely hinged;
those clustered close at the scaffold’s base would later swear: with dying breath came not the feared but looked-for curse. Her only words, “I’m sorry.”
Dutiful, claimed royal hangers-on long accustomed to the eldest girl’s guilty proclamations. Her contrition for being too loud, too soft too much, too little too argumentative, too acquiescent too beautiful, too plain. For the unset place when guests arrived unannounced. For the household’s every unexpressed desire left untended-to.
“Eurydice, dying now a second time, uttered no complaint against her husband. What was there to complain of, but that she had been loved?” — Ovid, Metamorphoses
Disregard what poets tell you. They hear the thump of their own hearts and think they have discovered a universe. Or presume that my beloved, musician to the gods who never flubbed an entrance in his life, might in eagerness miscount the beats remaining to lift his wife back out of death. Turn for me too soon, an accident.
You living march toward darkness like a parade, joyous and cacophonous and blind. Whereas I have already worn my shroud. And I have already tasted ashes. The sunlight you steep in cannot thaw bones already chill with such fore-knowledge.
See the truth. In his final triumphant crescendo, Orpheus heard a single word fall from my mouth like a stone:
“Wanna bite?” the old woman asked,
holding out her cherry-red confection
polished and gleaming as a new Corvette
or a little girl’s patent leather shoes
on Sunday morning.
Should’ve tipped me to the truth, that glow alone.
Nothing from nature shines straight from the tree,
the earth, the ocean. Not before violence:
the pearl deslimed of its oyster’s flesh,
coal hewn from the depths and lit ablaze.
Even fruit does not reveal its juicy glisten
until split open by greedy teeth.
But I was tired and not attending as I should.
It’s long days, caring for grown men small enough
to resemble children—or call them children
grown destructive enough to resemble men. No matter. Princess is only a title that escapes drudgery
when some other woman’s close to hand.
What I’m saying is:
Maybe I did notice, after all.
Maybe I did understand.