by KELVIN CORCORAN.
AFTER ARGOS IO really was in Egypt
sand in her mouth, sperm in her lap;
she took the wet with the dry
a preservative in the Nilotic oven.
She wasn’t caught in another account,
unlike Helen of the different narratives;
she was there, she ran or was abducted
Greeks asserted as self-serving ambiguity.
Though the names have changed since then
you can go there, see the long lick of the river,
the deep horizon, cold stars, the bull of Apis,
hear the creak and splash of waterwheels.
Io didn’t feel like a figure in myth,
a clause in the east-west see-saw shuffle,
no boustrophedonic ur-text girl;
she liked her nails and mouth neat and red.
I’m a king’s daughter, she said,
give me what I want, I don’t trade;
the tender little quail for dinner
and at night that one-string song.
Then the ancient world wavered
in the voice of Roza Eskenazi,
her volatile rhapsody might breach
the barriers of expectation.
A song circles the harbour wall,
Greek night blackens the village,
the little owls call, dogs die, new breeds run
and Roza my child sings on the edge.
Then the ancient world, who sailed by here?
Oh Cleopatra, that we perish, talk to him;
then our kind tender for the distant dead
their white selves walking against the sky.
Their unaccountable emotional quality,
their feet sliding on the waves;
illegible their names, the distant dead
come calling in an unimaginable tongue.
Theseus abandoned Ariadne on Naxos
by the harbour, to the rocks and swine;
the dancing god in bloody riot arrived
and she screamed her head off.
I can’t stay here, counting village idiots,
smelling pig flop and that effeminate stranger
spraying the asphodel like a tomcat;
the sea blinds me, the sail-away sea gone sour.
I trip on the beating tide, sway like a tree,
there’s no centre here, just rock and wind and salt;
I see the drowned temples of white forgetting
where nameless creatures feed and fuck.
Ariadne really couldn’t live there,
so it ended in the olive grove on the hill;
she stepped off the dithyramb into thin air
the sea winking blue all around.
Where Ritsos fought and stood aside
where imprisonment drilled his brain,
they’ve built a monkey house
a monument to fake money and nepotism.
Europa swam into Ovid’s arms
the sea’s crowded and I can’t get o’er
the sea surges flooding all the time
a girl wide-eyed as if it all just began.
Doctors redeployed to avoid the sick
a swimming pool tax for others,
the scabrous rash of shoddy houses
begins the rot as future option.
Reports all along the Pylos coast
last offerings gold scrap metal victims
ships from where? raiders? burning?
light beacons, mobilise, burning, stop.
So what are we doing now Potnia?
Do you see them at the foot of the hill
surrounding us, a flood, do you see them
through our transparent walls?
Slaves to an alien code, eyes shining,
mythographers bound and hungry:
will they come to care for purple robes?
Either way, at present, it’s of no comfort.
May as well dance on sea glint
and expect to stay dry, return home,
prosper beyond the long shadow
occupied by courtyard stir only.
Lady we kept true to you
in the high places where light is born
and in the caves of bloody earth
breathing, we kept true to you.
Sappho hit the water and rowed across the Aegean,
popped out like a cork at the pillars of Hercules;
at this distance each stroke a trochaic ripple, word
by word joined on the empty manuscript of the sea.
The gritty sand of Lesbos scours the hands,
shoulders ache, head thickens, sight fails;
bite your tongue, recall the springs of Aphrodite,
pull Sappho pull over the liquid lexicon.
Her voice entered the western lyric
on the gleaming tide of the capital
like honey in the ear to soothe then madden;
honey, then gall, stroke by stroke said Sappho.
Kelvin Corcoran’s work came to prominence with his first book Robin Hood in the Dark Ages (UK: £12.72 | US: $4.95) in 1985. Nine subsequent collections have been enthusiastically received and his work has been anthologised in the UK and USA. The sequence Helen Mania was made a Poetry Book Society choice. His New and Selected Poems (UK: £10.79 | US: $9.06) is now available from Shearsman Books along with two major collections Backward Turning Sea (2008 | UK: £8.95 | US: $15.30) and Hotel Shadow (2010 | UK: £8.95 | US: $14.40). For The Greek Spring (UK: £9.43 | US: $15.30), a selection of Kelvin Corcoran’s poetry about Greece was published in 2013. The Writing Occurs As Song: A Kelvin Corcoran Reader (UK: £11.44 | US: $20.17), edited by Andy Brown was published in 2014.