Three Retroclassical Poems

The Suicides
In Dante’s verse the Suicides
became trees beset with Harpy claws
that broke branches and rent their sides
for defying the most “selfless” of Nature’s laws.
As I walk along this forest track
and hear the ice-limned trees all scream
and snap and splinter— crack, crack, crack—
I wonder what, exactly, was Dante’s scheme.
For trees do not themselves slay,
but fall by insects, blight, and weather,
harried by things beyond their say,
one alone, or many together.
Rooted in place without hope
to move against natural assaults
nor able to adjust, compensate or cope—
wait, perhaps we do share the same faults.
After all, what can a man really do
when his brain is insect-eaten and blighted
except let self-destruction fell him, too,
powerless against the Harpies of his head?

Mnemosyne
Goddess of memory,
chthonic widow
holding vigil for
an embalmed life
in the catacombs of the
hippocampus,
wandering as an exile
from her own shadow
and
weeping for yesterday:
you are in want of
forgetting,
to be as
urns emptied
in restless winds
or corpses caving inward
with burrowing insects,
dissembling toward
oblivion’s dust.
She wearies so
beneath the weight she carries,
like Sisyphus pushing his heavy stone
up a hill of remembering
only to let it roll down once again
into willful
repression.
What stone does she carry except
her own calcified heart
hardened with the density of its
yield?
The years have not been kind to her,
for she remembers them,
and they pull at her like
needy children
greedy to suckle
the same teat.
Passing through a forest
of hands,
she cannot fend off the shades,
longing for the River Lethe.

Repression
Hippolytus clenched his chariot reins
in fists so tight they seemed to choke
desire itself and, thus, recurring pains
from an id restless with each spinning spoke.
But as the wheels ground along the beach,
frothy with the sea’s lusty surges,
a bull emerged from the tidal reach—
a beast born of suppressed urges.
The horses bucked as if struck mad,
frothing at the mouth like the sea,
and though dragged, it was not so bad
since Hippolytus felt it chafe sweetly.
Trampled, at length, beneath his horses,
Hippolytus felt as if he had been ridden
by Phaedra in thrall to resurgent forces
which was quite thrilling, it being forbidden.

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