Lamia always was more snake
than woman; the witch gave me up
to Hermes for what she called love
and was on her feet by the time
I was dragged towards the sunset.
You can’t tell me that she believed
a swift god would remain faithful
or (be honest) satisfying.
Myths may rush to a premature
point, yet that doesn’t make them true –
between me and you, Lamia
didn’t disappear, she was trapped
once more in a glittering hide
and Lycius survived the loss.
He moulted every azure trace
of scandal, left it all behind.
He found a sensible woman
and then – unbewitched – married her.
He is worn bald, his wife dulled
by the respectability,
both touched by their own misery –
knowing there was something better
once, knowing there never will be.
No one remembers me. I watch
Lamia the snake shed sapphire
tears for her loss and coil her body
into his garden’s dark corners.
Their decay is my first solace.
Now I use the speed and magic
drilled into me – hand Lycius
(just a middle-aged gardener)
a sharp-tined fork she might one day
be skewered on, whisper rainbows
from Lamia’s lips into his dreams,
drop hints of both to his wife.
There is no real need for me here –
once again, their own devices
are clockwork. I’ll exit stage left
at night: as he labours to make
suitable heirs, she brews venom.
Two hands span and branch themselves –
lords of spears blossomed black
against the washed light of a sunless sky.
The pale timber of his legs is tender
in strength and youth, elegant in certainty.
He plants the stiff-skinned bark
of his feet in defiance, roots
his toes deeper, sinking
and scraping into soil and stone.
His back is supple straight, spine stem
hollowed of spectacle yet brimful
of sap from a refused uprooting.
His naked shoulders are twin cairns
that speak of deadfall, the stories of his father –
and like them are sculpted to offer shelter.
Beneath the hard, bare surface of his chest,
an urgent river forces ripples across his ribs
which ring the soft bell of his stomach.
The current bows to his pelvis, arrowshot
to the tide of his desire: the first-earth,
a sapling who breathes in seasons.
Brindled hair catches the breeze,
touches the sky, sweeps around
the keen edges of his features –
the white coastal precipice of his throat,
the heaving heat of a storm
clenched in his scratch-lined jaw.
Eyes two grey, dewed pebbles –
pupils hell-kettle black – he watches
the teeming city’s advance, cragfast.
It’s the way sunlight insists itself
and catches gold in your eyelashes:
a promise reflected on your resting cheek.
Later, halfway between anywhere, you stand
exposed to the view from the cliff-top.
That’s close enough for now.
Clouds wring their tears on your head,
tapping soft patterns across my heart
in drumming mockery of my dry eyes.
Each morning, I prise my lids open at sunrise,
and there, on the precipice of knowing,
gathering footsteps are echoed by a wing beat.
Scenes on the Muses’ Cutting Room Floor
Shields used as stretchers for faceless soldiers.
The chariot of fever drawing rutted tracks
through the wounded and leaving a trail of pus.
Let our men die in the glory of sudden death.
Any sign of native civilisation, bravery or piety.
Tributes to other gods. The world their dead
move into when the battle is lost for them.
Let them die again in an ignored underworld.
Most of the women – from the soft hand
of a soldier’s wife raising her children abroad
to the snowy white arm wound like a catapult.
Let us keep the rapes, though – they’re a metaphor.
Zoe Mitchell is a poet living and working on the South Coast. She recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester and was awarded a Distinction and the Kate Betts Memorial Prize. She has been previously published in a range of magazines including The London Magazine, The Rialto and Brittle Star, and is due to perform commissioned work at the Winchester Poetry Festival in October 2016. Follow her on Twitter @writingbyzoe.
Image credit: Melanie