Circe by Morgan Stewart

Circe

by Morgan Stewart

I don’t remember how long you were with me

--was it a month? seven months?--

before you took to snapping your eyelids shut to guard

yourself against poisonous sights,

against me and the things I would say.  Now you

are gone, you’ve taken to telling the story of how

I turned men into pigs. Sailors, soldiers,

good men.  Back home, you tell people I am a witch because

there are no words in Greek for the parts of me

that were foreign to you and because

naming them would be a kind of betrayal.

I appreciate that. On the last day,

you finally looked at me as you got up

from the grass bed,  and I was focusing on how the dead skin pealed

at your shoulders and nape, on the moth wing lace of it,

when you told me –so dramatic,

starting something-- how I had made a pig out of you,

not considering that it’s possible

you came to me that way. It is not too bad for me

 

because my life never revolved around

finding you.  So it did not end when you told me

There is a woman I love. I have to go back to her.

So for a moment my center went hollow and wooden, a dead tree center,

at the prospect of loneliness but also for the sake

of the woman you love who has a house

full of your choices and no island.  The weight of her reputation:

She is so loyal.  She weaves cloth that is so white and so straight

while I squat on this beach, threading a fish spine through lotuses to make a chain.

It falls apart.  The tide tongues in, the black pig gallops through surf,

the volcanic rock tumbles, so I grab it, mash dried peppers;

I light bonfires. Because my life never revolved around

 

avoiding war or waging war, it’s fair to say I never understood

(I hurt only the ones who showed up on their own).

Because my life was a slow walk alone through the labyrinth

of shells and bugs, lichen and olives, sandy lizards,

all this-- enough to study for five hundred years

and never finish, too much for you because you land

on all kinds of shores but never learned how to explore

one island.  You have no eye for detail

unless you’re strategizing. With you, it was all about drama and your big

brain. There were times, though, that you joined my walk and my feast

of only foods that can be held between the thumb and forefinger,

times you did laugh at the boom of your own voice or

at my bitten lip the way the beam laughs at leaves

by entering them.  Beams did pierce the canopy that quivered

above the beds you joined me in making, in messing

before rising early for one of your big-stride, long-view days.

You rose like time was something to be consumed before it spoiled.

It’s fair to say that I have remembered you unfairly,

 

incompletely, so please know that at least I can still picture

those ruddy mornings, your shadow long

on the sand when you ran for the husk

of your ship to shoo the filth-caked pigs looking for a cool spot,

to hurl each crab that clacked on the green boards and curse

each bird that shat on the wasted sails, your shoulders square,

burnt.  If I want, I can picture it: how you burned through the day

with your hunting, trying to find a way out --finding me out, too--

and returning with fistfuls of caught fish and pronouncements

brimming with boom, your lips parting for them, for teeth, and later

other things.  You took to rearranging objects,

arranging crops in rows, chipping sharp stones out of dull ones,

even collected some shells, even painted some

with no soldiers to see, just the witch who did far stranger things.

 

You were learning to like me: how I carried my own stone knife,

how I did not want to be your wife, how I could wander

the quake of forest and night without you.

Most people needed your strength; I just wanted it,

so how you burned through the night, and you were the red hot sky

of bleeding comets and the rose of dawn, moving over me

the way you moved when you were a captain over the water: naturally.

then one of those days came to find you finally slumped

at the nose of the boat corpse, talking to the pigs like they had names,

and maybe that was the moment that woke you—

you were behaving they way I do.  After that, more and more,

you’d be there, watching the clouds, the shore, the sea, no curses,

no pronouncements. Burnt and square.

You were strategizing.  And that did not feel fair,

but I let you go, let my center go, starved for the sake

of a feeling both cloven and cleaving, rough-skinned and low-rooting

for a while --only a while, though, before the island entered me

through my face and fingers, the island of loam

in callous grooves and wool snagged on thorns, the island

as full of perfumes and calls as it was before you

ever came calling. But back home

 

you tell everyone, show everyone, the things you learned

from all kinds of shores, while I still sit like a scorch mark on this one,

and you never say it, but you know.  You know

that I could still show you some edible flowers I discovered

by following the train of raggedy sheep; they gives me fibers to spin

though there are no wheels here. I have my own ways

which I would show you only after pointing out pools

full of fish –javelining one another with their bodies,

squeezing out an egg gloom—and then how ripples can rupture

our faces.  Smoke signals can reach you, enter your lungs,

and close them.  Sparks can fly into your eyes, sting them open.

Lotus ropes can pull ships in, and I can show you

 

wild pigs, the littlest ones spotted and scrambling

for milk from shade bathed mothers, and what did you mean when you said

I made you a pig?  I study their mud baptisms,

the gamble for fermented figs, the dry cave quest in winter.

I participate.  There’s the brown one who ran from me

faster than I’ve ever seen a pig run, the blind one

who moved his snout to my calf, let me smooth the wire

poking from his back, but the one I know best is black

and small and spiky like my love in the night

still is. Daily replacing the hoof prints the waves take,

she is stronger than she seems.

In hurricane season, sometimes instead of burrowing

into the warm pile of her siblings, she comes to nuzzle me
with tusks, and elsewhere on the island all the other wild pigs

dream and squirm --leave and stay-- and you

have nothing in common with any of them.