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‘oracle’ and ‘Mary Does Laugh’.

Two Poems by



they did not choose beauty
knew that soon kouros
would shake off melancholy

stance awake foot forward
ravishing and tender-toed a
sweet-kneed sprinter made

to outrun time – they saw to
one another’s needs – love
plunged across the isthmus

(these were the days of awe
we fasted on the pinewood
path fought our new wars
forgiveness far behind us)

they did not choose youth
for yearlessness is fey – rather
a plain matron farsighted

as fecundity and grey –
how I wept to see young
priestesses like cyclamen

flee sanctuary and shrine
flush-cheeked trailing the veil
in terror of today –

for I do not deal in plain
speech – why should I
given an age of plethora?

so many words for stone
yet voiceless primeval mute
architect of peak and slope

it haunts the air refusing
to be spoken – only dare
walk where in an instant

it is not where ancient chelonian
plays rock beside the rift
quilted in quiet centuries

dwell on long absence from
this hill how haste delayed
ascent drift hid the cleft

and ravenous crevasse – you
know all is not as it seems
slow exodus decks the ravine

they did not choose virginity
once understood the hunger
for despoilment they knew

a seasoned womb transmits
unabashed raw wisdom
of the marriage bed they

did not disdain the sway
of bay upon the intellect
displacement of the thirst

to know for feral trance
unsullied interlude of grace –
only approach this place

stilled abyss at the centre
of the world where hums
and shakes inchoate word –

one day they embraced shame
mistaking god for son – swore
to cut out my red drenched

tongue I spoke openly then of
raped adyton quenched spring
woe on a warring world of men

THE ORACLE, ALSO known as the Pythia, whose sacred shrine was at Delphi on Mount Parnassus in Ancient Greece, is said to have prophesied there from as early as 1400 BC. Her oracles in hexameter have been called ‘the last fragment of Greek poetry which has moved the hearts of men’ (Gregory, Timothy E., ‘Julian and the Last Oracle at Delphi’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies; Cambridge, Mass., etc. Vol. 24, Iss. 4,  [Winter 1983]: 355.) The choice of a young virgin as Pythia was abandoned after such were proven sexually vulnerable. Hereafter, an older woman was chosen, who then left marital home and children in order to live at the shrine; the habit continued of Pythia dressing as a young woman. Kings, warriors and commoners consulted her for advice, and even Apollo himself sought her counsel. Her cryptic prophesy was often misinterpreted, especially when a negative outcome was forecast, but was always retrospectively seen to have been accurate. The early Christian era saw a confusion engulf the Oracle, whose female power and authority were deeply revered yet perceived as a threat by the new cult religion; a dichotomy the repercussions of which were promptly divined by the Pythia. Successive Roman emperors attempted either to reinstate a degraded Oracle or to destroy it. Finally, Julian (ruled 361-363 AD) sent an emissary to Delphi to rebuild the shrine, only to be rewarded with Pythia’s last utterance:

Tell the emperor that the Daidalic hall has fallen. No longer does
Phoebus have his chamber, nor mantic laurel, nor prophetic spring~
and the speaking water has been silenced.’

‘Mary Does Laugh…’

i. m. Sister Corita Kent (1918-1986)

…goes to Tesco for tinned soup,
shops savvy – Campbell’s
three-for-one (father, son, and so on),
damns the ready-meals to hell,

gets mad, stays off message ever
since the feral one-off interlude
presaged by that weirdo Gabriel
landed her in the ordure

goes on all the demos, ducks the
iPhone selfies and a fallen angel
or two: ‘buy more, make more war,
fuck up the world for good and all…’

the sons of men they come and go,
Mother Mary is the juiciest tomato.

KATE ASHTON was born in Beith and has lived in the Scottish Highlands since 2003, after 25 years in the Netherlands. She writes narrative non-fiction and translates from Dutch and Frisian. Her poems and reviews have appeared in UK magazines and webzines including THE SHOp, Glasgow Review of Books, Agenda, Shearsman, Shadowtrain, Causeway, Molly Bloom, and Long Poem Magazine. Her first collection, Who by Water, was published by Shearsman Books in 2016; a second collection is pending.

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