Three Poems

Poem 64

Ariadne needed Theseus
like she needed an arrow through the head.
Theseus needed Ariadne
like the bow needed that arrow.
The Minotaur needed nothing but darkness
and they took that from him too.

Bloodied in the stone-echo battle dreams of his home,
he was left alone,
waiting for Charon.

Ariadne, under a wide moon, running, glistened in cool light
as night opened its wings around her.
Triumphant Theseus trudged,
a sweating, swearing, blood-stained mutterer saying,
lie down girl,
lie down here and sleep.
So she slept
lay way down, spread out under the stars,
poised to be painted.

Meanwhile her brother’s blood became a river,
and floating the Lethe coinless
his giant form clutched tight in its throat
a guttural vocative.

Ariadne awoke to silence, tepid heat, an early sun,
raised all the translucence
of her oil-rendered arms in stretch to the sky,
only to see the white wings of sails
saluting her from the horizon.

Theseus, sailing delirious,
guiltless, coinless,
over unobscured waters
rejoiced in the clear, and sped away
with nothing to say
into the glinting sunshine.

Behind him, a swirling gloom
enveloped the lunate coastline
where Ariadne cried; tore at herself until
exposed in dark waters, she sobbed darkly
for the wreckage of betrayal upon betrayal
begged guidance
down that blood-dark river
and was refused.

Each moment of the journey it was there anyway
created on Crete,
neglected on Naxos,
plunging from the Piraeus cliffs
death and all its children;
its miasmas; its stains.

 

 

Clytemnestra Takes a Bath

Woman — cast your tyrannical spell upon the water,
heart of red dwarf star, fizzing wonder,
and to the seething foam pour your oils, aromatic offerings,
libations of rose petals and candle-torches blazing in the dark,
a ring of ensnaring flame.

Woman — run the bath red,
drop by crimson drop, let the red tide flow
unsheathe the cold steel, let it slide in long strokes
and when it nicks, then oozes,
draw it quick down beneath the scarlet waters,
and keep it there.

Woman — I know you,
you own the distant scream or two of flesh
dragged against white marble,
the sound behind the door of a call:
in another life, you betrayed a kingdom of nothing,
wrenched off an eagle’s wings, sprayed its black blood wide,
assumed the form of a snake.

Clytemnestra — in this life, relax;
the day is beginning.
Untangle the net of your dressing gown from the bathroom floor,
wrap your blushed flesh in silk,
apply a plaster to that bright-ooze, shaving cut,
and let the crimson bathwater all the way out.
Breathe deep, dry off, moisturise.
Fish the rose petals from the teeth of the bathtub’s drain
with your hands.

 

 

CLYTEMNESTRA: You and I have the power now

Woman is prostrate on the shag carpet
candles around her are lit like beacons in the dark,
she is saying it over and over:
take it back take it back take it back!

Woman sits up, clasps the trembling moths of her hands,
all the is air heavy with scented-candle smell,
a thick perfume intoxicating the dim living room,
where she wrings those nervous hands, their crimson nails,
and lets loose a small whimper.

Woman knows she has committed murder.

She had prayed to the wrong god, the snake eater
who writhes and slides, a mother god ferocious
all filled with disasters. She had
called Clytemnestra from the confines of myth
for an act of vengeance.

Woman had never been religious, even as a child
no trips to church or mosque, but had always the sense of it;
something more that was there, maybe,
drew her to horoscopes and tarot cards,
made her trust in neck prickles,
avoid stepping on cracks,
to have an affinity for metaphor.

After the divorce there was no need to deny
this spirituality of sorts, Ex-Husband had always thought it silly, so
she got herself a holistic therapist, curated crystals, bought
a set of cards, and let the shape of her life’s actions
become predetermined and ritualistic, coloured more
by the shapes of her dreams.

It was Therapist who had suggested it, praying, of all things,
and Woman wondered: who to?
Therapist said: It doesn’t matter. Not even if you believe; it’s only about
letting it out, like writing a letter and burning it,
like yelling it off a mountain. All that anger inside;
let it ask for what it wants.

But when Woman tried, she found
she did not know how to pray, exactly;
it hurt her knees on the ground like that,
and she still didn’t have anyone to pray to
until her theatre group started their new play
and Woman met Clytemnestra
and Woman thought she will do.

Mistress of thunder she was the sort of woman
Woman thought she would like to be, easily
outsmarting anyone, filled with a quiet kind of laughter,
master inventor of flaming messages and vengeful in body,
awash in sunset pools of scarlet,
unleashed, unlike Woman who had
made a sheet of her anger and folded it tight.

Clytemnestra, well-known black widow,
wrathful lustful in a time before sin
had for several thousand years
committed the crime the same:
child-killing husband home from war lured
into the bath by her, and by her axe
the bath painted crimson.

Woman’s worship was less like a prayer,
more like a summoning,
in a room of scented candles
on the shag carpet chosen by Ex-Husband,
Woman would dress in a scarlet satin robe as if
ready to receive a lover,
but would be stern with concentration
like a student before an exam.

She would lace her hands, interlocking fingers pressing tight
and unfold the anger-pain like a wave;
call on Clytemnestra to
untangle the nets of justice
and cast them out towards Ex-Husband.
To lift the righteous axe, and with it aloft,
recount the wrongs: deep, often, unrelenting,
then bring it down
and let the red tide flow.

I did what you said she told Therapist,
Therapist said, And how did it feel?
Woman said, Angry
and wasn’t wrong.

It became weekly, this almost-prayer,
this unravelling of fire so tightly coiled
and sorrow so deeply swallowed,
Woman sat on her lounge floor and howled to her mother,
Clytemnestra, the one who understood the pact and price of
blood for blood and
flicker by flicker the candles melted.

Clytemnestra visited her dreams, too,
with an axe draped over one shoulder
casually, as if a cardigan,
all dressed in white robes, she was
spectral if not ghostly, partially translucent or at least
muted, tinged silver and blurring
but the blood dripping from axe,
the blood dipping and pooling and staining
was always clearly in focus,
so bright bright red it seemed
to be leaping out an extra dimension
as if it had something to say.

She was in the car when she got the call:
Ex-Husband. Found dead. In the bathroom.
Woman felt cool terror lick her throat, she
spluttered ice cubes into the phone before
opening the car door to retch onto the concrete.

So Woman is prostrate
on the luxurious carpet, she is
engorged with regret and belief,
tear-streaked and snot-fractured,
crying and begging with myth
for mythical absolution for the crime of
Ex-Husband. In the bathroom. With Clytemnestra’s axe.

The death was not suspicious she is no longer
privy to the privacy of how, his mother
won’t speak to her,
but in her dreams the bathroom will be red,
not splattered so much as soaked, dripping,
and not blood exactly, sort of
cheap horror movie gore
and it will be hard to ignore
in her waking
the image of Clytemnestra in white and crimson
walking from the scene of that
crime not crime,
that secret wish’s accidental accordance
with the way things are.

About the author
Hebe Kearney is from Christchurch but now calls Auckland her home. She currently studying to complete her Honours in Classics at the University of Auckland. She couldn’t stop writing poems if she tried. Her work has also appeared in Starling, The Three Lamps, and Forest and Bird.