• Crown Shyness

    A. E. Stallings

    Spring 2023

    The ancient epics do not overlap.
    Hector dies. Achilles is a ghost.
    The wooden horse is backstory at most,
    Or hasn’t happened yet. A witch’s trap
    Turns men to swine. A living river burns.
    A dog lies pining on a heap of dung.
    A woman waits, and is no longer young.
    A ransom’s paid. A wanderer returns.

    So great trees grow, they tell us, putting down
    A map of roots that chart the underworld
    As deep as topmost leaves reach up, unfurled
    Into the blue sublime, and side by side,
    Though deep and tall, they only grow so wide,
    And hold aloof, not touching at the crown.

    They hold aloof, not touching at the crown.
    Walking between their columns, look above
    To see how sky’s a river delta of
    Blue leaking through, as puzzled light sifts down.
    How do they know—how do they sense the touch?
    We call it shyness. Is it courtesy,
    An antique courtliness of tree to tree,
    That somehow knows the border of too much?

    When Priam in his laden wagon came
    Under the veil of night to meet his foe,
    And buy the body of his son, laid low,
    Achilles drew back from his savage brink
    To courtesy, and said, “We are the same:
    Though princes, we are mortals. Eat. Drink.”

    A. E. Stallings is an American poet who has lived in Greece since 1999. She has recently published a new verse translation of Hesiod’s Works and Days (Penguin Classics), and a new collection of poetry, Like (with FSG).

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