Cara Chamberlain

No song, no tenderness survives

Eurydice and Daphne

I sleep beside him, uncovered, roots at my flank.

My soles sank into rising darkness as if I were entering cool skin.

I was innocent, unconscious even of yellow cassia’s naked anthers.

Shining, he chased; I fled.

In this almost-night, trees hunch, scheming.

My leaves pearled with beads of pure rain, a green structure of “Don’t, don’t, don’t.”

Flesh spreading over branches, I become a woman as I fall.

* Women don’t thrive in Greek and Roman myths. Eurydice is bitten by an asp on her

wedding day. Daphne prefers to become a tree rather than suffer the embrace of the

lascivious Apollo. Damned if you do/damned if you don’t.

Awakening at Night: Telethusa  

Moonlight slants the groves.

Leaves sweat sugar, fragrance.

Birds trickle through branches, nervous under a prism moon.

I’m lying near you, not touching.

Our son sleeps in his own bed.

The daughter I never had catches fireflies and tells watersnakes she loves them.

She gathers stems to build a house that fades, a nest moist with lake water.

* Iphis was born female, but, to save her from an infanticidal father, her mother Telethusa

disguised her and raised her as a male. Eventually, in answer to Iphis’s prayers, the goddess

Isis transformed her into a young man, enabling her to marry Ianthe, her betrothed.

Narcissus and Echo

I soak to the ground and pull like rain through pores of grass until I touch volcanic rock.

Sagas float through me: bellowing clash, antler, unbearable October. I loosen my bone-knot,

bend easy, and break, a flower lurching, currents feeding my love.

Did you think me useless—an ugly, uncaulking voice? I’m the night song of elk. In me,

meadows take hold. My bones knot your torn, scarred system of beauty, feeding my love.

* A handsome boy, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a forest pool and, oddly

enough, became a flower. The nymph Echo, who loved him even more, lost independent

speech when she helped Jupiter deceive Juno and subsequently pined away to a pile of bones

and a disembodied, mimicking voice.

When Actaeon Takes Up Industrial Farming

Tonight he’ll leave, this August night, this perfect summer moon.        

But as the corn grows straight and old evils rise, his own obedient dogs take charge—

perfection now. Technique is all. No song, no tenderness survives.

* Something of a stickler, goddess of the moon Diana cursed the hunter Actaeon when he

happened to see her bathing. By turning him into a stag, she rather tidily ensured that his

own hounds would chase him down.

Ulysses in Tennessee

Now bluebirds nest in the cannons.

And blood—does it beg revenge or is it silent, hidden deep in the soil?

A short path to an old house with sagging lintel and steps grooved where visitors have worn

them, the roof admitting light.

Snow was once peach blossoms of this orchard in April scattered under cannon fire.

Embers were petals as the woods smoldered or perhaps the spring was late, the flowers


On that first night of battle, Ulysses smoked cigars as doctors worked.

His face wet with rain or tears, “Whip ’em tomorrow,” he said.

* Ulysses was a major Greek hero of the Trojan War and star of his own epic return home.

He was known for his strategems and ruthlessness, and no doubt would have enjoyed the

bloodshed at Shiloh.

Bacchus Arrives

If you’ve been lost for years, becoming as still, as unheard as summer tides, a dry loaf,

a cold late meal, you know his exile.

A motherless god, he arrived with a singular faith in a land backlit by sunset easing to

a vague glow, the waves’ new dark verse rowing quietly in August, sunset behind a

shadowed altar. 

A shivering harbor opens its arms to destruction, intoxication, stars that dive into the holy

breaths of gray seals.

* God of wine, Bacchus is the stranger, the deity always traveling, bringing his intoxication,

madness, and violence to new cities and cultures.

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