Two Poems, One Theme, One Angry Goddess
No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly and brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses. They are like us, only more so – their actions and adventures scrawled across the heavens above, from the birth of the universe to the creation of humankind.Stephen Fry
Deep in the woods stands my father,
a gamekeeper, in the black of night
when no one should ever go for fear
of the broken shotgun over the crease
in his elbow. It is cold. Ice has crept
up trees, hardened puddles of water
and mud, and gives everything an
unnatural shine when the moon sifts
through the canopy or my father’s torch
glares between trees at sounds in the night.
And in the night, the noises of mice and rats
become shuffling feet, disturbing delicate,
frozen leaves and only leaving cracked foliage
behind when the old gamekeeper hurries and
Once. Once, he told me about a woman
that had poached two pheasants – he gave chase
pleased that she had run towards the clearing
in the north of the woods, where he
showed me how to find faerie rings when I was six;
I would draw pictures of every one I found,
with imaginings of what each Faerie Queen
looked like based on the colours of the mushrooms.
In the north clearing, my father said, there was
no sign of the poacher he had been just behind.
He searched for hours, he said, but
never found a sign of her or the pheasants. Not
until, frustrated and confused, he rested
against a tree in the centre of the clearing and felt
the bark to be much softer than it ought be:
in two knobs in the trunk, about chest height,
had two limp birds clutched around their necks
in the bark.
Deep in the woods lay my father,
a gamekeeper, in the light of day
found by his later replacement, as
the stress of watching the woods for
over twelve years, meant that he told
that man and I about the dryad that
came to poach birds.
The Greek Goddess of the Hunt
To begin at one part of her would not do her justice,
her entire body works in union with each of her parts:
lithe arms with the roll of her shoulder as she draws an arrow
to shoot, and between her shoulders is a chest that fills and
empties air in time with any prey she stalks. In her
back is the tautness of a bow string, that is echoed
in the coils that are her legs, tipped with bare feet,
feeling the moist earth of the forest floor –
same as any other wild predator.
The goddess’ prey today is Adonis. A man
who claimed to be a greater hunter than her.
Adonis is made of parts that do not fit. Only
images, reflections of hunters, with no
form of his own. His arms and legs could
be interchangeable, all four limbs are strong, yes,
but tipped with clumsy appendages that
fail to do their own labour and relying on
passing coin to poachers for their services, while
Adonis’ mouth gapes fishlike as he tells
tales of the great beasts he has caught. Not
many notice how the pelts of them chafe
his pale, soft skin.
Artemis finds the poachers first, dragging
along the forest floor a boar towards a tent
made of violet silk starkly contrasting
against the pale greens of spring in the wood.
Unnaturally flush with the shadows, the
goddess waits for the poachers to finish pulling
the hacked boar, covered in gouges as though
a child had taken red paint to the creature, and
leave before – Adonis pushes through
the curtains of his tent, clapping and whooping
at the slain boar. Artemis peels out of the shade,
her unnatural face, a god’s face, scornful
and in high dudgeon as the imitation
reveals a fresh blade and slides it in gingerly,
grimacing, into the boar.
The goddess howls as the blade is bloodied and
wills only for the creature to rise again
to ravage the mimicry that had insulted the
honour of the hunt. Adonis becomes a startled rat,
swinging madly at the boar as it impossibly stands;
only then does he see the figure of Artemis
stalk into the forest, fading, while the boar’s teeth
Whew! It’s been a busy few days, and in order to make sure the content being delivered to you is of good quality, the promised short story will be published tomorrow at 5pm sharp – stay posted by hitting the subscribe button at the bottom of the page!
Until tomorrow, enjoy the Greek mythology inspired poems above; I felt like polishing them ready for posting, because in times of upheaval or change, there’s solace to be found in familiar stories. Especially when you make them your own through reinterpretation or playing with form.
Myths and legends are a treasure-trove of inspiration in strange times. From The trials of Hercules to How Anansi got a bald head, they cover a wealth of emotions and journeys both epic and incredibly personal, with common themes that unite so many different people and cultures. There’s a story for every wonderful or rotten twist of life and it can be strange comfort to know that anything you’re going through has been lived a thousand times before.
It’s still special, it just means that you have a lot of poetry or fiction to enjoy about it! There’s a good reason teenagers studying lit’ feel revolutionised by Poe or the Brontë sisters when it comes to the intensity of romance.
Let’s end it there before we start to get too philosophical, and let me know what you think of the poems in the comments.
Next post: short fiction.