Tuesday, August 02, 2011
The Flute Seller
Today I visited Windy Skies for the first time and encountered the figure of an itinerant peddler, attempting to sell his flutes in the midst of Indian traffic. The image struck me as an apt metaphor for the poet in the 21st century—a wanderer with a sheaf of songs and hand reaching out with a handmade gift while the world whirls by, faster and faster, not like a dervish but like a manic child's top.
Since Beth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing and qarrtsiluni and the cassandra pages just wrote me that she is now reading The Throne of Psyche (my new book from Mercer University Press, May 2011), I feel inspired to post the first section of the title poem. You will find it below--I'm afraid that even a piece of a longish poem breaks up the short post rule and dances on it! A good many poems from the book have been reprinted on the site, but not the opening of the book.
Well-made poems are creations that reward re-readings. If you have liked the poems from The Throne of Psyche posted on the blog, I hope you’ll consider owning a copy of your very own to read over time. As a physical object, the book is unusually beautiful in design and production. As for the contents, I have strewn the blog with samples so that passers-by may taste and see . . .
Also available for bloggers by request (contact me here or via email or facebook or twitter): uploads of audio readings from The Throne of Psyche; uploads of videos by Paul Digby with me reading poems; images; copies of poems, links to related material, etc.
For more information about the book, please go here and here. For information on how to order my books, go here.
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THE THRONE OF PSYCHE (opening section)
A soul’s mysterious as any tree—
It drives a root as deadly low as hell,
It stretches peaceful branches heaven-high,
It harvests light with leaves of memory.
I. HER GIRLHOOD
You see the limestone wall that catches light—
Those olive trees inside the circuit of stone?
The gardeners said the eldest one had passed
Three thousand years. It looks as gnarled and scarred
As rind from dragons that survived a war,
And underneath’s the spot where I was born,
The Queen my mother snatched by sudden pains
While walking in the garden. I looked up
And saw the sun like showered stars in leaves.
You think I can’t remember? Yes, I can;
And I remember breeze and branches tossed,
The olive shifting, singing down at me,
Saying I was Psyche, blessed and blessing—
I made a cry and Mother laughed in joy
And drew her knife across the bloody cord.
A Queen is busy like an ant whose nest
Is shattered open by a curious
Small child: the tree became a family,
A secret place to go and talk or hide.
I ate her fruit, I drank her bitter teas
When I was ill, and someone carved a doll
Fleshed in olive wood from wind-thrown branches.
The greenish face with streaks of yellow-brown
Made me daydream strangers from another
World where sky was rose and water purple.
In ours, my sisters married parched old kings
To give my father fine alliances;
I scaled the tree and heard an oracle
Foretell I would not bear a fate like theirs.
The courtiers made me abashed with praise
That I was fair, the people offered gifts
As though I were a goddess from the sky.
I grew afraid and gods grew angry, as
They will—yet why, since time is always on
Their side? I clambered up my olive tree
And harkened to the auguring of leaves:
I’d have a fate called strange and wonderful.
But messengers approached my father’s throne
To tell how I must be a sacrifice
To temper Aphrodite’s jealousy.
A monster tarried on the mountaintop,
My promised bridegroom—winged and scaled from sole
To crown, the color of a stormy cloud
But hard as armor from the gods’ own forge.
I thought of sisters, queens in jeweled crowns,
Of truce between security and looks
And guessed perhaps there was more than one way
To be consumed. All gossiped I would be
A morsel for my bridegroom’s evening feed;
My mother shrieked, my father slashed his robes,
Our people raised a mighty swell of grief.
I tipped the polished bronze from side to side
But could not find why such a fate was mine—
A face in metal or in water is
A dim and shining thing. I clambered up
And listened to more prophecy of leaves,
How I would shiver like an olive branch
Before I tasted fate, how I was meant
To be unlike all others of my world,
How I would grow as radiant as a tree
Below the burning chariot of sun.
So when the people’s loud procession came,
I did not cry or flee. I bound my doll
Of greenish olive wood into my sash
And climbed past aloes to the mountaintop,
Walking as if between two founts of tears:
My mother and father, for whom I tried
To be a comforter despite my dread,
Though all the while I gripped the olive wood
That lived three thousand years, as if the luck
Of living long might sink into my palm
And shin a tree of blood up to my heart.
I was sixteen the night I watched the court
And people winding like a starry snake
Down the mountain’s flank to town or palace,
And wept as one by one the torches died.
It seems a thousand years ago to me
And only instants: how my courage flared
Or failed at noises in the wilderness—
I could not speak for dread of the unknown.
On my last morning of familiar things,
I’d flung my arms around the rugged trunk,
And leaves had fluttered message in my ear:
Inside you is a beauty left untouched
By thrones or the admiring throngs of men,
And seeking at your girlhood’s door is love,
A glistering monster and a child of light,
A mountain errand dark with mystery,
A loveliness that springs up from a seed—
Those leaves of fire, that bright enchanted tree.