Ad Cassandram (Hecuba)
It could have been a car door / leaving that bruise
– David Tomas Martinez, “Consider Oedipus’s Father”
but the first time it was the temple steps, cracked marble
and you just the right height
to headfirst past your father. At least
he couldn’t blame me, but the next time, the snakebite,
I had turned my head for just a moment.
Maybe it’s a good omen
I said, but then your fever burned as hot as the fires
you called out in your sleep.
When your father and I fought that time, and later, we kept it from you. She isn’t well
who knows what will set her off.
That, you get from him.
Darling, every love has its consequence:
a bruised rib, an empty bed,
the dreams of flame you wake from shivering.
Darling, there are consequences of love
I should have tried harder to shield you from:
that no one will believe you when you blame the doorknob,
the stovetop, yourself,
but that no one will contradict you either;
that no one will shelter you when you talk
only of bedrooms burning.
So often you cannot know
how things will turn out until
they do, darling,
you cannot trust your mother,
who should have been able to protect you,
who should be able to believe you.
By the time Agamemnon took me
to his bed, I already
knew the name Iphigenia.
When he touched
what of me I heard him call more
beautiful than his wife, I imagined her
oldest daughter, sacrificed
for her uncle’s sails.
You cannot trust fathers.
My father prays to Apollo the Distant Archer,
sometimes called Apollo the Distant.
Apollo the too-distant: what
would any god have for a man left with only what
Agamemnon left behind as sacrifice?
Along the hills at the edge
of the Greek camp grows larkspur,
sometimes called delphinium,
(curse that god and his useless oracle)
sometimes called staggerweed, for
the effect it causes in a man in moderation.
What effect it causes in moderation in a man in a larger dose
might win a war.
When my father takes me back from
whatever men Agamemnon has left to bear me home, he will
hold me and praise Apollo and
I will hold
You cannot trust fathers.
That their prayers go unanswered by the gods does not mean
they go unheard.
after Reginald Shepherd
Before the River Lethe steals what I have left to say — the same
unheeded warnings screamed to an empty sky rivered purple with echoes — before the host and walls and keeps
of Troy fall — this will happen this is happening already — before these crowds who hear every priest but
close their ears to me — would that I had loved differently than I have — before every god before each
hearth and altar of Ilium time and time and time again I will scream until even the ghosts cannot ignore me — today
or tomorrow or never — before the sky is filled with crows herons cormorants cranes finches
feathers and flight patterns and the future to be read in their frenzy — before the final fires fill the sky there will be a calm upon it
Michael Berkowitz is a poet, web developer and aspiring trapeze artist, currently living in Somerville, Massachusetts. His work has most recently appeared in Quarterly West, Bird’s Thumb, and Jersey Devil Press. He can be found online at http://songsaboutsnow.com.