(For Marius Kociejowski)
Poseidon’s bull springs from the waves.
White, deliriously beautiful
slated as sacrifice to the god of the sea.
A deal is a deal, after all.
Old King Minos is smitten
his wife feels Aphrodite’s curse
tickling her thighs, chewing the womb of her dreams.
Next stop after Smitten?
A double stands in,
one tauros looks much like another
(videlicet any Iberian corrida).
Daedalus, supreme mechanic, asked to contrive
a wooden heifer into which Pasiphae
inserts her queenly body after dark
so a bull’s mighty pizzle
might navigate a trunk road
through the interior of her dark continent.
Cue moonshine. White disc of a bull-face waltzing.
And Aphrodite’s floating clouds of laughter
feathering a full moon.
Outcome on the far side of the equals sign:
First bellow announces
miscegenation of species
omission from next year’s royal Sandringham photographs.
Daedalus must now construct a labyrinth
in which our therianthrope
becomes a solitary lifer.
Condemned at birth
before he even knows what’s hit him.
keeping all his ontologies open.
Daedalus & Son obliged to join his party:
a fellow imprisoned on the isle of ingenuity
in a Royal Society of one.
Dark in there, and damp,
a cellar in Beirut, say, or a room in the Lubyanka,
Polish cattle trucks circa 1943.
Took away his liberty, not his know-how.
Wings fashioned for both father and son.
In the dark hear the clink of makeshift tools.
POWs digging through the stalag, as Icarus stands look-out.
they lift off by the light of the moon
(to bullman bellows – why can’t I FLY?)
evading Cretan ground-to-air artillery, the Minoan flak.
Noon next day, swooping over wine-dark seas,
Icarus ventures higher even than an eagle dares and
down he goes in the water
highest of all high-divers.
Final column of the young man’s life
one line of zeroes, dioxide bubbles
rising from the swervy blue
where a distant waxwing plummets.
Time stops. His father’s wings outstretch, hold still.
A windhover in heaven.
The future now a speeding car windscreen
catching the onrush of a sudden storm
before wipers flick
to synchronise the blinding wet away.
The font down there
in that big blue baptistery
(where Icarus is christened for the second time)
big enough to swallow the whole world.
Daedalus watches tomorrow drown.
How exactly had he ever engineered today?
Poseidon opens that same fluent hole
from whence a white bull thrashed out,
closes one eye, yawns,
briefly contented with his meal.
Minotaur has regular eating habits,
according to the Gnomon’s mighty shadow:
each nine years seven youths and seven virgins.
Proteinaceous, though lacking in roughage.
One by one they’re pointed through
vast labyrinth doors carved by Ghiberti.
Rite of passage for the catechumens
behind bronze gates
opening on hell and heaven.
One by one taken apart and eaten
at leisure, organs sorted
according to size piquancy vitamin quotient
acidity (lifers tending to the bilious).
Time comes round again,
the face of Aegeus in Athens is sad.
I’ll go, says his son Theseus -
old man so heavy with the tribute demanded
it makes a young one grieve –
why ever agree to such danegeld?
No, no, no.
Dad, I said I’d go.
I’ll handle it.
So go he goes and handles it
the way Michael did for his old man Vito Corleone.
Only a question of killing, after all.
Now another curse from Aphrodite
(never any shortage there).
Over in Crete Ariadne takes one swift look
at this Athenian prince, falls
entirely as though she were playing her mother, he the big white bull
thrashing already inside her.
Theseus, her flesh thinks not her mind,
designed by Zeus to fit so snug between my thighs.
Anything, then, Prinnie. Name your price.
Entry and exit, he replies.
Must get in there
then out again, scrub down, and home.
Here my love’s a little glamour and a clew.
With one you kill him, my half-brother,
with the other
find your way back here to me.
The thread’s umbilical.
One condition only, given so great love
to betray my flesh and blood
for a crew of alien carpetbaggers hunting gold
this quisling passion they’ll call it.
Little tart, no better than she should be.
Take me with you darling when you go.
Done. Ariadne sails along with him.
On Naxos two days later dumps her.
One ancient parish record says she hangs herself
using the magical thread of that same clew
brought our boy safely through the labyrinth
once he’d slaughtered her half-brother.
Anything to quell the wandering womb
Greeks reckoned made for a woman’s throat
without man’s gravity to hold it down.
Back in Greek waters
our lads still carousing on deck
Signor Hero forgets to change black sail to white
as agreed with the old man a lifetime (plus one day) ago
Aegeus has stared out from cliff-tops
day after day after day
sees those black sails at last and knows
Minotaur has had a rich and royal meal
(his one and only)
he throws himself, dim-eyed and doting, into the sea
which promptly absorbs his flesh
bones blood name
henceforth the Aegean
introducing him later that day
to the artificer’s son.
Divers from diverse generations.
No shoes required. No crowns.
Subaquean protocol alone obtains down here.
Poseidon licks his lips with satisfaction.
Snoozes wetly as amniotic tides
salute the moon. How fluently the hours
Years later…decades – the calendar’s occluded here –
Theseus in need of a wife
(who lost the Amazonian mother of his son
picks up Phaedra, Ariadne’s sister (well, why not?).
Gospels tell us
best not to let the right hand know
what the left is doing.
I hope you are happy with him now.
I remember that first night on the boat, how happy I was. Ravished and ravishing. The tide beneath us swelling almost as much as he did.
Felt like our dear mother must have done with old Tauros Blanco in his high field, white as the hair on Poseidon’s waves, squeezing and thrashing through her harbour walls.
On Naxos that night he led me to the tanglewood
only noticing after our third embrace
a shrew, its minute neck broken
staring so emptily
up into the moon’s white face.
We stepped apart then
as though an invisible cortège
must be given passage between us.
(Memory like an elephant, haven’t I?)
Live here in heaven now with Dionysus my redeemer, as you might have read in the periodicals. A god’s wife. Dinners are grand, believe me. They come from such enormous distances to get here. Some haven’t eaten for a year. And some have suns for eyes. Certain evenings I have to wear shades even to sit at the mahogany table and keep smiling. All in the fast lane, chauffeured along at the speed of light.
Some nights when he goes off
to the great consult
I stare at distant fires
a million miles away
a million years
see mighty shadows
(part of this family once)
raising their mighty shadow hands to the flames
as if to keep warm inside time’s ruins.
Tell him that I resent nothing. Except maybe our half-brother. Euthanasia really wasn’t the answer, I’ve come to believe. A vegetarian diet might well have calmed him. Or maybe a beautiful white heifer, sprinkled with the merest hint of Poseidon’s magic salt. A little salted bull’s wife settling beneath him. She could have shouted at midnight almost as loud as he did. Or I did once.
Your loving sister,
Aphrodite still looking to get even.
Gods never call it quits
and goddesses are worse.
There in the palace Phaedra
between the gilt frames and the polished tables
falls in love with her stepson Hippolytus
while Theseus is off abroad somewhere, cutting deals
in platinum promises and futures
(New York, Tokyo. Fill in the gaps for yourself.)
Our boy’s devoted to Artemis
rejects with priestly disdain her rival’s unseemly advances
to Aphrodite’s fury.
Ressentiment: Nietzsche’s motor of history.
Now vengeance wakes to its duties:
it is time once more.
Phaedra hangs herself from rafters
leaving a letter blaming the boy
for seducing her. Theseus returning
believes the posthumous libel
banishes his son, calling down one of three curses
still owed him by Poseidon
that master of the salt mines of the heart.
Cue bell sound; end-of-round tally.
Two sisters gone from his bed into the same tight noose.
How vagrant wombs migrate into the throat’s constriction.
Now wait now see
what delights arrive once more
in this world of Newton’s Third Law:
towards each action, an equal and opposite
pendulum swings. What goes around
As the carriage gets to shore
where once he’d sucked in a winged son
once spewed forth a white bull
Poseidon emits another in answer to his distant promise
(a deal is a deal, after all)
not beautiful like the white one
merely vast ferocious speedy.
Minotaur horns. Minotaur rage.
Horses panic, throw Hippolytus,
drag him to an early death.
Only then does Theseus learn
how Phaedra in her fatal misery
had lied, turning all Poseidon’s oceans
into one large angry womb.
My epidermis, remember.
The itching, heaving
terrible flesh of the sea.
Who sail in boats
flirt with winds
(sozzled, dancing at midnight on deck)
black sails I carry
as a rhino carries a raven on his back.
a nocturnal butterfly, no more,
anthracite moth to navigate the white thigh of my breakers.
mischief and death can fling
upon my tides.
Our hero’s father, hurling himself into waves below,
a caterpillar flung into my leaky beard.
The child is father to the man.
And this one’s gift? To procreate death.
A womb black and leathery as midnight bats.
Note how Ariadne and her sister Phaedra
both take Theseus
or vice versa.
Some say Ariadne hanged herself on Naxos
Phaedra did one day in Greece.
White bull’s intolerable beauty
ejaculated from Poseidon’s waves
till Hyppolytus re-fills his silk salt gap.
See how He likes to keep things balanced
sea against sky
fate up above mirrored by judgment below.
This day Poseidon
sees his son blinded
weeps in the salt of sea and rain
no one seeing that face
daubed on a seaside postcard
would notice, gazing on the ancient’s
liquid features, graysoaked
waterfalls of grief through the bluff of his beard
a liquid funeral mourning. Just sea,
salt’s symmetry. Not one eye, you notice,
nor the other – both at once.
No monocle, no asymmetric tear
always two moons gleaming in a lachrymatory
Meanwhile Aphrodite coughs three
dry white clouds into the blue and chuckles.
Hearing her, remembering the terms of engagement
between them, Poseidon spat out white waves too
eyes brimming at last with salt
and laughter. Some mariners made landfall
that day. Others drowned.