Posted tagged ‘Greek myth’

Human, once-removed: Psyche

June 25, 2010

The Psyche series, “Once Removed,” can be read on pp. 55-72 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948).

Oh, Psyche. She hurts to look at, always doing the wrong thing, always given more to do than she has hands to do. Filled with love and confusion, listening to jealousy and fear, humiliated by a moment of doubtful action, a mother-in-law’s grief and anger. They try so hard, these women, to love the men in their care. They fall back on themselves and their undeveloped hearts when left alone.

The Psyche series, Once Removed, begins with someone else’s story, another woman given impossible tasks. The miller’s daughter was locked up and ordered to spin straw into gold. Like Psyche, this nameless woman had to rely on dangerous help and sacrifice who she might become and create in order to have a chance at any future at all.

Then Psyche enters, in the next poem, spilling candle wax on her husband Eros. He is a stranger to her in the day and a dark but loving presence in her nights. The wax burns his skin and wakes him—some strange law of Greek divinity decrees he must leave instantly and never see her again. Sight equals knowledge here, and knowledge and love cannot live together.

Psyche, still shaking from this loss, is now tormented by his mother. Venus appears, not as the goddess of beauty but of justice, and she becomes Nemesis in her pursuit of Psyche’s destruction for shaming her son. Psyche must clean and count; Psyche must pay the unpayable.

And Psyche counts, not seeds but memories and days. Lost in her mind and heart, she finds helpers when and where she least expects, ants and birds to carry and sort. It is not enough. Venus wants more, wants the death of this unwanted, unloved daughter-in-law. So she sends Psyche to meet death, a journey no one but Orpheus has survived. And Psyche is no musician, has no talents but beauty and healing.

Psyche knows she will die if she makes another mis-step. She knows that Eros will never come back if she does not return. The trip to meet Persephone and Pluto is nearly as frightening as the trip to the living world. She must face this dreaded couple who rule the world no waking person sees, and she must ask the Queen of death and spring to share her beauty with the Goddess who breathes beauty from her smile. Woman to woman to woman—Psyche doesn’t stand a chance.

Yet Psyche is surprised. Pluto and Persephone know mismatched and impossible love, mutually exclusive choices. They welcome her and offer the one moment of divine compassion Psyche knows in this entire myth. They give her what she needs. And this love, this mercy, nearly break her—she has prepared herself for pain.

More counting—Psyche keeps herself focused on the journey back by numbering her steps, refusing to look left or right or behind. She has this one last task—to focus—before she can see her husband again. And she has no guarantees. She is a different woman than before. Stronger, sharper, and more sure. Angry even in her hope. Even the bats and spirits cannot shift her feet.

It’s daylight when she emerges. Eros comes to meet her. The first time they have seen each other in the sun since he rescued her from a sea god’s rape. Now she has rescued him although she doesn’t know why he needs rescue, nor where he’s been. And she wants him to feel the pain she has felt. She pierces him with one of his own arrows, reversing the mistake that first brought them together. It is her desire and love that want to be met.

And he bleeds and becomes less than a god, only a man, this time a husband she can see and touch and hold. They weep and laugh together, seeing that in looking at each other after grief and separation, they know the other in themselves and love each other deeply.

Psyche to me is another voiceless myth who has much to say. Her connection with Persephone is key to finding the depth of her pain and the strength in her choices. Lost, abandoned Psyche became the hunter who caught her god and made him lovable. She took away his singular power to choose other’s matches (the original e-Harmony) by choosing him for her own. And in the choosing and the loneliness and the strength, Psyche found her own divinity. Human, once-removed.

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Diana–The Ambiguity of Desire

February 12, 2010

The Diana series, “Fleet Desire,” can be read on pp. 19-31 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

She is the goddess of the crescent moon long before she is the virgin twin sister of Apollo and protector of the forests and wild places of the blood and heart. Diana, woman as untouchable, as utterly desired and utterly apart. Woman as possibility and enigma. The darkness and light muting and radiating into the unattained.

There are seven series of poems in heart, speech, this, each exploring particular moments of myth for a Greek goddess, demi-goddess, or mortal woman. Each woman is at a point of emotional and physical transformation expressed through the ambiguities of her relationship to commitment and desire.

It’s one of the wonderful things about myth, that there is no absolute one version that obviates all others although certainly there are favorites and those considered to be more “legitimate” than others. With Diana, who appears in so much of central Asia, northern Africa, and southern Europe, the myths chosen say much about approaches to desire as the habitations of culture and geography as they do about the need for archetypal figures to express what seems to extend and exceed the understanding of the self.

The Diana of heart, speech, this is the wild, athletic goddess who delights in her body and the challenges of living within and against her nature. She is complete within herself, and she has no desire outside of herself. Thus she becomes cruel because the desire of others is a nuisance, not an invitation or countering strength. “Fleet Desire” titles this series just as Diana is known for her speed and the men who want her for the desire that kills them at the moment they realize the impossibility of their hunger.

Mars and Venus may show that justice is irrelevant when love and war are combined; doesn’t Diana force us to recognize that the fairness of desire is simply in the destructiveness of unequal expression?

Diana runs through these poems, sensuous without being sensual, unaware of what it would mean to be in relationship with another. An other. She is only in herself. And hunters, so many hunters, Orion and Actaeon among them, see her and are caught just as her hair is caught by the vines and branches hanging from the trees that frame her speed.

There is a tendency in heterosexual love to make a distinction between lover and loved, to make an object of the desired, to make the wanted one a solution to the question raised by need. Diana violates this difference. She refuses to be objectified. Seen as a home (how often are women equated with homes, places of refuge and generation?), as music and prayer, as prey to be hunted, caught, and devoured, Diana is not seen as herself. And her own sight is no clearer (“her gaze, un-silvered,/ splashed upon him, blur-/ring”) as she is incapable of reflecting what she sees. Don’t we use others as our mirrors? Diana is incapable of reflecting although she raises reflections in others. And this failure destroys those who want to see themselves in her. In trying to possess what is not a possession, these men become dispossessed and unhomed.

heart, speech, this–introduction

January 28, 2010

There are stories within stories in this book, myths and memories and might-have-beens. Love stories, ruptures, alienations. And like all poetry, what the reader brings to the work creates a different poem with each scanning of a line, each taking apart and putting together of images and sounds.

In these essays, I will think and feel through some of what occurs to me as I reinsert myself in this work that in some ways is no longer mine as if I were reinserting myself in a life I no longer own.

Here is what the book came to be: seven series of poems exploring women of Greek myth, each series with its own poetic form and voice, interrupted and conversing with poems more contemporary, less narrative, in both traditional and nonce forms. These women, some goddesses, some mortal, some half-mortal, half-divine, are more often described than given voices in the myths. And I wondered, still wonder, what they might say, how they might understand the fear and violence and brokenness in which they found themselves, and I wondered, still wonder, what it would mean to interpret these stories as experiences of ambiguous loss (see Pauline Boss’ work), of knowing and not knowing the presence of those they loved.

Although the myths explored are Greek with Roman additions, many of the poems evoke other parts of the globe. Persia, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Italy, England, Arizona, New Mexico, New York, Japan—the poems wander and tangle themselves in places and times of earth and sea and fire. Exile is as strong a theme of love fractured and made more than it was.

“Scheherazade” opens “heart”, the first half of the book, with warring desires between words and sense—hunger, thirst, and affection grabbing for the space that wanted to be a story. And the story becomes the “fleet desire” of Diana chased by Actaeon, Orion, and the dogs with which they hunt.

Diana is followed by Persephone, confused by her own violent responses to desire, and Persephone gives way to Psyche and the desperate, impossible work of rescuing the disappeared. Athena finds desire within herself and the development of strength in isolation, refusing just as her half-sister Diana to be caught.

“Speech”, the book’s second half, goes deeper into ambiguous loss with the experiences of women at war—Leda’s rape, Penelope’s wait for Odysseus, Helen’s infidelity and return, Athena’s anger, Athena’s peace. They are women connected by blood as well as conflict, and my re-tellings of their myths imagine greater independence, justice questioned and applied, resolutions that sustain the impossibility of solutions.

At times, these essays will explore the series and at times, the individual poems interspersed in each section. Feel free to comment, question, add more information, and post your own poems, stories, reinterpretations in response.