Poseidon was easier than most. He calls himself a god, but he fell beneath my fingers with more shaking than any mortal. He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders. I made him bend his back for me, listened to his screams break like waves. We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled, screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner. The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that. I'm sure I'll be hearing from her. She'll give me nightmares for a week or so; that I can handle. Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood; I'll scream when I see it, and that will be that. Maybe my first child will be born with the head of a fish. I'm not even sure it was worth it, Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman, losing his immortal mind because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight. Now my arms smoke and itch. Hard scales cover my wrists like armour. C'mon Athena, he was only another lay, and not a particularly good one at that, even though he can spit steam from his fingers. Won't touch him again. Promise. And we didn't mean to drop to our knees in your temple, but our bodies were so hot and misaligned. It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god, you know that. Why are you being so rough on me? I feel my eyes twisting, the lids crusting over and boiling, the pupils glowing red with heat. Athena, woman to woman, could you have resisted him? Would you have been able to wait for the proper place, the right moment, to jump those immortal bones? Now my feet are tangled with hair, my ears are gone. My back is curving and my lips have grown numb. My garden boy just shattered at my feet. Dammit, Athena, take away my father's gold. Send me away to live with lepers. Give me a pimple or two. But my face. To have men never again be able to gaze at my face, growing stupid in anticipation of that first touch, how can any woman live like that? How will I be able to watch their warm bodies turn to rock when their only sin was desiring me? All they want is to see me sweat. They only want to touch my face and run their fingers through my . . . my hair is it moving?
© 1992 by Patricia Smith, from Big Towns, Big Talk, published by Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA). Used with permission. All rights reserved.
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemnon dead. Being so caught up, So mastered by the brute blood of the air, Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
This poem is in the public domain.
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead I played about the front gate, pulling flowers. You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse, You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums. And we went on living in the village of Chokan: Two small people, without dislike or suspicion. At fourteen I married My Lord you. I never laughed, being bashful. Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back. At fifteen I stopped scowling, I desired my dust to be mingled with yours Forever and forever and forever. Why should I climb the look out? At sixteen you departed, You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies, And you have been gone five months. The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead. You dragged your feet when you went out. By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses, Too deep to clear them away! The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. The paired butterflies are already yellow with August Over the grass in the West garden; They hurt me. I grow older. If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang, Please let me know beforehand, And I will come out to meet you As far as Cho-fu-Sa. By Rihaku
"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" is based on the first of Li Po's "Two Letters from Chang-Kan." Copyright © 1956, 1957 by Ezra Pound. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.