The Scenic Route

An old friend came in from out of town.
We walked down the wind-licked esplanade.
I left the ice-free side of sidewalk to him.
“You’re a good walker,” he said.
Dogs passed, pulling their owners toward the park.
“This is the scenic route,” I explained.
Noon caught in the teeth of grey high trees.
Each in our own clip-on sunglasses,
We squinted at different tints of bright.
. . . . .

Still reading Ovid

Ovid turns many men to birds and beasts.
But mostly women, it seems, make like trees and leave.

Daphne, fleeing Phoebus, wind flowing in her dress,
“Called ‘Father, if your waters still hold charms
to save your daughter, cover with green earth
This body I wear too well,” and as she spoke
A soaring drowsiness possessed her; growing
In earth she stood, which thighs embraced by climbing
Bark, her white arms branches, her fair head swaying
In a cloud of leaves; all that was Daphne bowed
In the stirring of the wind, the glittering green
Leaf twined within her hair and she was laurel.”

Dryope did not ask for her tree-grown prison.
She picked a bright lotus at the stilled edges of a lake.
A cursed flower, the body of another chased woman,
Lotis, who turned to plant to escape naughty Priapus.
Dryope turned to run, but “her feet were caught,
Held into earth and grass, and as she swayed,
Only her arms and shoulders were swung free.
Rough bark crept up her legs, her thighs,
And as she felt it creep, she tore her hair,
Only to find her fingers full of leaves.”
A lotus tree her last fair disguise, she pleads:
“Let neither steel nor tooth break though these boughs,
nor senseless cattle eat away my leaves.”

After Orpheus lost Eurydice the second time,
he turned to singing and preferred the love of boys.
“The songs that Orpheus sang brought creatures round him,
All beast, all birds, all stones held in their spell.
But look! There on a hill that overlooked the plain,
A crowd of raging women stood, their naked breasts
Scarce covered by strips of fur. They gazed at Orpheus
Still singing, his frail lyre in one hand.
Her wild hair in the wind, one naked demon cried,
‘Look at the pretty boy who will not have us!’
And shouting tossed a spear aimed at his mouth.”
“The screams of women, clapping of hands on breasts and thighs,
The clattering tympanum soon won their way
Above the poet’s music; spears found their aim,
And stones turned red, streaked by the singer’s blood.”

Guess the punishment for the murder of Orpheus:
Lyaeus captured the Thracian madwomen
“Who saw him die, trussed them with roots,
And thrust their feet, toes downward, into earth.
As birds are trapped by clever fowlers in a net,
Then flutter to get free, drawing the net still tighter
Round wings and claws, so each woman fought,
Held by quick roots entangling feet and fingers,
Toenails in earth, she felt bark creeping up her legs,
And when she tried to slap her thighs, her hands struck oak;
Her neck, her shoulders, breasts were oak-wood carving;
You’d think her arms were branches – you’re not wrong.”
. . . . .

Beet Salad

Somehow I managed to Potluck myself into a corner.
It took longer than I thought to shop, roast, peel and slice.
I went to dinner bearing a beet salad bordering on the alchemical.
A cut-glass bowl clutched in the red-stained fingers of a murderer.
. . . . .

Reading Ovid

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so many turn to stone,
whether from sadness, fear or retribution.

A solid state was the fate of ruined Niobe:
“Her neck unbending, arms, feet motionless,
Even her entrails had been turned to stone.”

Against Perseus, Eryx disbelieved his men:
“’It is your fear and not the Gorgon’s head
That makes you stand as if you were asleep;
Wake up with me and cut this monster down,
This boy who talks of magic spells and weapons.’
He charged, but as he lunged, floor gripped his feet;
He turned to granite in full battle-dress.”

And Phineus, “whose neck at once grew rigid,
And tears of onyx hung upon his cheeks.”

All this is because, I suppose, in the beginning:

“(Some find this fable more than fabulous,
But we must keep faith with our ancient legends)
Pebbles grew into rocks, rocks into statues
That looked like men; the darker parts still wet
With earth were flesh, dry elements were bones,
And veins began to stir with human blood –
Such were the inclinations of heaven’s will.
The stones that Deucalion dropped were men,
And those that fell from his wife’s hands were women.
Beyond, behind the years of loss and hardship
We trace a stony heritage of being.”

Suffice it to say,
I am careful not to fall asleep while reading Ovid.
. . . . .