Sunday, March 01, 2009


You’ve set me, father of the Greeks,
grandfather of their eastern enemies,
here in the crackling sky,
frozen forever in the night,

pricked out in stars,
a join-the-dots cartoon,
unmoving, badly drawn, and yet at least
close to Andromeda, my wife.

You hardly know me,
but yesterday, by standards of the skies
I once was what you’d call
in all your ignorance, a Star.

A living man, more free than most,
son of the Father of the gods
but cruelly controlled by destiny
that framed my life.

Acrisius, no grandfather of mine
fearful of prophecies,
exiled his daughter and her child,
imprisoned us in wood, set us adrift.

Dictes of Seriphos
a fisherman, a man with heart,
found us sprawled on his beach
and took us both into his hut.

My mother, mother of all the Greeks
Drew out the values of the soul:
love from the fisher-man, and
lust from his brother king.

I had no horse to offer at the court,
and gave a promise in its stead.
King Polydectes smiled,
and called for my half-sister’s head.

This left me a young man
cast out into the world
searching I knew not where
to find a stony death.

The destiny that was my curse
gave me the blessings of the gods and nymphs.
Hermes the great gave me my brittle sword,
sharp as a crystal, shining like the sun,

Athena gave my silver shield, in which
the world existed inside out.
I practiced long and hard, learned how to fight
with arms in space, and mind within a dream.

From Hades came my will.

The Naiads gifts:
the helmet that closed off the world
so that, reflexively, the world could not see me.

My precious sandals
gave me the gift of flight,
the act and choice
of childhood dreams.

And last, they gave a carry bag,
a simple wallet
that could hide the foulest thing
the world contains.

Armed with these gifts
it was an easy step to find the Western Isles,
and ask directions of the maidens there
forever dancing in their apple groves.

They made me welcome.
Don’t ask me how I tore myself away
to fly from Paradise
to find embodiments of ugliness.

Only my will could grasp
that slimy, stinking eye
the Graeae shared.
Screaming, they told me where my sister lived.

You may condemn me
that I broke my word to them
and threw their filthy eyeball in the lake.
You were not there. And they were Ceto’s spawn.

I found the Gorgons’ cave,
and cut my sister’s head.
That’s all you need to know.
Invisible, I fled.

The consummation of my word;
Medusa with her writhing hair,
bumping at my side, hidden
within the wallet that the Naiads gave.

Successful, dancing on the wind,
I landed then in Ethiopia,
flooded and crushed by Poseidon
all for a self-regarding queen.

Driven by pity for the girl
and detestation of the alien and the foul,
I fought the mother of the burden
that I carried in my purse.

The blade of Hermes, and the will of Hell
gave me the strength to face
Ceto, the monster of the seas.
I was familiar with her ugliness.

Andromeda was my reward.
Should I have used the Head
on Phineus, my rival?
I did not care by then.

I wanted happiness,
happiness and home,
I wanted to fulfill my word,
return the trophy to the king.

He sat there with my mother, raped,
and my godfather Dictes nowhere to be seen.
Polydectes asked to see the Head.
That was the second death I caused.

And yes, by fate I killed my grandfather.
It was an accident, a touch, a glance.
I did not will him dead,
I did not take his throne.

It was a long, adventurous life
once famous, half forgotten now.
But if you speak of me at all,
remember this one thing:

The Head I gave back to Athena
with her shield, the Head of snakes,
the Head whose look caused immobility
Through Hades’ will,
I never glanced at it.

© Richard Lawson
March 17, 2008


DocRichard said...

Melanie Rimmer at Bean sprouts inspired me to put this one up. It is all down to watching the night sky for the last 2 years, now that we have no light pollution.

Melanie Rimmer said...

Thank you Doc. I enjoyed reading your poem, and in your turn you have inspired me. I am going to dig out and re-read my favourite translation of The Odyssey (it's Lattimore - I should be trendier and enjoy Fagles, but I already understand the story so I don't need Fagles' help with it, and Lattimore's poetry is better)