The Prophet Cassandra Arrives Late to the Dinner Table

John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_Ball

She slouches in, ever the surly adolescent;
slides like a grouch into her chair.
Her father, Priam, last king of the impregnable city
(Lo how the mighty walls of Troy forever fall)
is griping again his common complaints of shifty royal advisers
and tax collectors delinquent for the season.
Queen Hecuba purses her lips and frowns; passes down green beans
instead of the mashed potatoes her daughter asks for.
Heaving a weighty sigh, Cassandra tries to catch the glance
of a close-seated sibling, second eldest among her 50 brothers.
Fails, as expected. (Paris’s eyes already so full of Helen
whose beauty he has yet to see. Hands already so full
with the taste of her, he snatches in practice at scullery maids,
at the cook’s assistant; bears them off unwilling
into closets and dark corners—previews
of the world-ending snatch-and-run yet to come.)

The prophet sees in the distance her own snatching,
how this time next year she’ll be knocked up with the Sun God’s curse—
would-be curse, she corrects herself; disbelief comes as a burden
only to those unaccustomed to being disbelieved
and laughs, distracted—a beat too soon,
interrupting her father’s joke before its punchline.
A minute later, redeems herself from his glare by laughing again,
this time at just the right moment in just the right way.
Under the table, she cups her ever-to-be-unpregnant belly
already swelling with a god’s seed,
already feeling the stories push and flutter beneath her skin.

~a.i.


[For more from the Myth & Fairy Tale Project.]

[Image: detail from The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse, public domain.]

The Writer Dreams of Rivers

[CN: rape, self-injury]


winter-river

“Survivors understand full well that the natural human response to horrible events is to put them out of mind. They may have done this themselves in the past. Survivors also understand that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. It is for this reason that public truth-telling is the common denominator of all social action.”
–Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

In a dream, I come across a toad in the woods. Squat, warty, with flat blank eyes. He belches up a stone that clatters over my feet. A ruby, I recognize when I bend over to look: big as my fist and red as death. I reach out to pick it up, to pop it into my mouth for safe-keeping, and grab the toad instead. I do not realize my mistake until I feel the toad sitting belligerent on my tongue, plumping up his blotchy abdomen to fill the space from my lips to my throat. When I look back for the ruby, it is already gone.

I wake up choking.

* * * * *

Most of the photos I have from my childhood live in a large document box, clustered together chronologically in clearly-labeled archival folders. My mother—trained historian and daughter of a news-photographer—made just such a careful box for each of us during the years after my grandfather’s death, merging countless stacks of inherited photos with her own files as she worked to organize his legacy. An inch into the box, in a folder simply labeled “GRADE 2,” one finds not photographs but a carbon-copy report typed onto two sheets of onion skin paper, preprinted with the words: CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.

I remember this report, even though I’d never read it until recently. Or, more precisely, I remember taking the tests that led to it.

And I remember Mr. Morley.

Continue reading “The Writer Dreams of Rivers”

Oracle

 

john_collier_-_priestess_of_delphi-2


Oracle

The Pythia, Oracle at Delphi, was (scholars report)
the most powerful woman of the Ancient World,
sought out by royalty and commoner alike to answer their questions
and predict their fates, prognostications she offered them
in dactylic hexameter as elegant and epic as any Homer wrote

though (others footnote) every fortune the Oracle uttered was claimed
to come out as hysterical raving in need of translation by her priestly keepers—
acolytes of Apollo and collectors of the payment each pilgrim brought
in tribute to the God and to his Voice—

the truth lying, as it always does, somewhere between
frenzied gibberish and enigmatic prophecy,
between priestess and priests
between woman and man. Continue reading “Oracle”

Justice Is An Egg

After the Roman deities swallowed the Greeks who came before,
only to find themselves swallowed by the Crucified God in turn…

After Olympus finally fell into disrepair and myth…

Athena—now shacked up with the last remaining Vestal
Virgin-No-Longer—
snuck one night into the clubfoot god’s cobwebbed smithy.
Found and filched the tool she sought.

Standing over her father’s bed, she matched her breathing to his rattling chest.
Thought: “his hand looks small without lightning in his fist.”
Then: “can’t make an omelet without—”

And brought the hammer—cracking
down.

~a.i.


athena_nashville
When I lived in Nashville–on Parthenon Way, no less, meaning the first thing I saw on my drive to work each morning was the recreated temple–the 42ft Athena statue therein had not yet been painted *quite* so gold.

On me and my mythologies: 

I have been writing and rewriting my own versions of Greek mythology for as long as I can remember. Ever since my mother told me bedtime stories cribbed [and heavily sanitized!] from her dog-eared copy of Bulfinch’s.

Continue reading “Justice Is An Egg”

Eurydice Descending a Staircase

Striking how in myth, it’s always accidents
sending women to hell,
keeping them there:

Persephone waiting to go home with her momma til
whoops no, forgot to read the fine print
’bout don’t eat no Underworld food and suddenly
her juice-stained mouth means no escape from Hades for you
young lady,

Eurydice partying at her wedding, steps on a snake —
ne’rmind the groom with his honey-on-fire voice that lulls every beast,
even gonna put Hades’ three-headed guard dog down for a nap
but can’t stop one punkass garden viper.
Too busy showing off for his future father-in-law maybe
(god of music and prophecy give it up for Apollo!)
to think of snakes.

Don’t get me started on that other colossal fuckup as he’s leading her out,
turn around too soon and whoops there goes the wife
back down unto death.

When does an accident beggar the accidental.
Am I really ‘spose to believe that Little Miss My-Other-Name-Is-Snake-Goddess
couldn’t notice one small fanged tendril coiling up her ankle
as she and her nymphs pounded through their vegetable dance?

The true Eleusinian mystery:
what do Eurydice and Persephone whisper to each other
sitting in hell’s stony corners
giggling,

eating pomegranates.

~ai

Duchamp_-_Nude_Descending_a_Staircase


[Featured image: Nude descending a staircase, Marcel Duchamp.]

This marble column, gleaming

[CN: mental illness, self-injury]


CASSANDRA:
Say, is my speech or wild and erring now,
Or doth its arrow cleave the mark indeed?
They called me once, The prophetess of lies,
The wandering hag, the pest of every door—
Attest ye now, She knows in very sooth
The house’s curse, the storied infamy.
— Aeschylus, Agamemnon

“Between killing and dying, there’s a third way: Live.”
— Christa Wolf , Kassandra

cassandra_by maxklinger
Bust of Cassandra. Max Klinger, c. 1895, Hamburger Kunsthalle (via)

Long before I designed my own undergraduate major around the literature of Greek mythology or wrote my senior thesis on modern adaptations of ancient Greek plays, I was obsessed with the characters. Even before the obligatory grade school units on mythology, complete with afternoon trips to the library where we all colored in our own mimeographed faces of the Olympic gods, I knew all their names and backstories.

I had grown up with them, you see. To me, Greek heroes and gods were the stuff of bedtime stories.

My mother, who had herself majored in classics and kept a copy of Winnie Ille Pu (the Latin translation of A.A. Milne’s classic) on her bedside table, pulled myths from her memories every time I pleaded “tell me a story, mom, please make me a story, make it a good one.” These tales felt like place-markers for invention, filled with lacunae where our own stories could take root. In time I came to know for myself the source materials she drew from — and realized how even the ancients manipulated myth-telling for their own creative purposes.

I haven’t read Aeschylus or Euripedes in decades now. Nor Homer, Plato, or Sophocles. My memories are become gentler, names and details mere flotsam in the wine-dark sea of my mind.

I like it this way. All the easier to tell you stories of my own.

• α • ω •

Remembering details…

In ancient Greek theater, the chorus member played not a man but an everyman. He played every Everyman. He hid his own face behind a stylized mask that bore the same expression as every other chorus member, so that collectively they formed a herd. A populace. Defined by this mask, this shell of anonymity, the chorus provided a foil against which the brilliance and hubris of the tragic hero shone.

The hero himself was forged from the divine. Fathered by a god, guarded by nymphs, taunted by the cruel Fates spinning at their wheel. Even his inevitable fall through pride could not diminish such grace. After death, a hero’s body was often flung into the stars, where his face gleams still today in the winking pinpricks of our constellations.

We all know how such tragic myths go. The hero gets the girl, the glory, and finally the agony. The chorus gets not even its own face.

Just a paycheck. It’s steady work, after all, being Chorus Member #4. All you have to do is memorize the same lines as everyone else.

And never let your mask slip.  Continue reading “This marble column, gleaming”