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Four Poems by Zoe Mitchell

Lamia Revisited

 

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.

 

 

Untitled

 

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.

 

 

Invasion

 

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

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