for Greg Nagy
Slim shadows, ragged, slightly deformed, not tall,
they were green young athletes once, who, lacking physique
and horse-sense, killed themselves when they jumped on the turn
in the chariot-race. And now they wait for the ferry,
puzzling where between life and death they are,
almost persuaded they’ve hit the ground running.
Death’s little wild friend, chattering Anisychia,
already my courier, pushing my trolley from here
to the Peloponnese, proclaiming our personal weather
with aerosol plumes and a data-dump: gut reaction
of ancient machinery, revving the malware, the mischief;
never-quite-lying alarm-monger, tacking two S’s to ‘care’,
curating my uninhabitable Chair,
in my tourist bus my kingsize beds my hair – Anisychia!
whipping me over the underworld’s hills, hell-circling charioteer.
When Hypnos bangs out the lights, he’s my cinematographer.
I watch the old couple, hands linked, like children
on the broad stairway towards the hill-top temple.
The one who limps is talkative, brightly alert.
The other, tall, half-smiling, doesn’t quite know where he is.
How desperate I used to be for young love!
I was twenty, the years since school raced hard, I was losing
shamefully, indescribably, some contest
with growing-up. So I got married, still twenty,
and served myself from the urn of mixed delights
and toxins. Now I think, what was the rush?
Old love is best, the real and useful marriage
of minds, administered by impediment.
The old couple steady each other, careful
over the slippery, pearly stone. I pass them,
single, envious, eager to be the first
to reach the altar-less wreck of the god’s temple.
Poems from The Mixed Urn, Syracuse University Press, 2019. Copyright 2019 by Carol Rumens, reprinted by permission of the author.