1. The Descent

    Daedalus in Knossos once contrived
    A dancing-floor for fair-haired Ariadne.

    She danced a winding dance
    her bare white feet
    weaving the pattern of a coiling tune
    — design of serpentine or marble pebbles
    set in the floor of any wayside shrine.

    Then was the ancient story just a game
    the villagers call Troy-town?
    What of the passages, the ways,
    the branching and dividing and rejoining maze?

    She rode the spiral down.
    She rode the escalator down,
    the polished platform disappeared from view.
    Old destinations echoed — Rome, Berlin,
    Bremen, New York — a thin chant threading
    the snailshell cochlea. The air
    bore scents of phosphor and of iodine.

    She reached ground zero, groped
    among the rags, the rubble, the charred leaves
    of torn papyrus lettered with old lyrics,
    the scattered tesserae and iridescent shards
    — there was a door
    it opened on a stairwell going down.

  2. Civitas Dei

    The princess is rolling a crystal ball,
    the princess is spinning a silver top,
    is playing hopscotch on the cobbles
    beneath the spires and oriels, the gates and crenelations
    of her city. Dresden? Berlin? Alexandria
    of the Magician, little Innsbruck, Tyre?

    It is the city of the god
    whatever its name. Where she dwells with her mother
    in a spacious apartment in the inner city,
    rosy with the gleam of old Bohemian glass.
    They sit at the darkly polished table,
    the scarred and cracked but shining refectory table
    and eat black bread and imitation honey
    while the baby plays
    while the siren shrieks
    while the walls tremble
    in the deep booming of the bombardment,
    the rat-tat-tat of anti-aircraft fire.
    (Surely by this time they are in the basement?)

    The linden trees are hung with giant veils
    for camouflage. The houses fall and fall
    until no camouflage is needed.
    In little gardens
    cabbages swell and rot beside the dahlias.

    The god withdraws.

    The princess in disguise flees with her mama,
    is taken to live with a pastor's family
    beside the village church. (Whose windows tremble
    whose dog hides under the bed
    when they are flattening the distant city.)
    Her crystal ball
    rolls down a deep well of forgetting.

  3. The Goose-Girl and the Sea

    Their clothes were rags.
    What did they wear
    as war wore on?
    A sky-blue silk chemise
    that once had been the queen's
    is what the goose-girl wore
    and loved to wear.
    The children all went barefoot.
    With tough and dirty feet
    they trod upon the stubble, gleaning wheat.

    But winter was coming.
    They heard a rumor of a shoemaker
    still plying his trade in a far town
    beside the sea. The two friends begged
    and begged to go.

    They were given a loaf of bread,
    a jug of buttermilk and their gaping shoes
    packed in their rucksacks.
    The boy and girl danced down the road,
    she in her mama's slip
    he in his missing father's trousers, cut down.
    The road unwound
    in unfamiliar swoops and curlicues
    drawing them on. Never
    had they been so far from home.

    The soft dust of the road,
    the roadside cornflowers as blue as eyes,
    the little goose-blossoms, the dandelion suns,
    a high hill, breathless climbing slope,
    the crest —
    before their dazzled eyes
    a shimmering surprise
    blue in the crystal distance where it flowed
    to sky. An aquamarine plenitude, a flood
    of wordless joy.
    At last
    one of them breathed: the sea.

    Whether they ever came down from that hill
    and found the shoemaker
    and stumbled home in darkness
    she cannot later tell. But still she sees
    — oh sudden prickle of tears behind closed eyes —
    the blue, the pure blue of the living sea.

  4. The Retreat

    Then Father Zeus proclaimed,
    the word came from on high:
    Abandon farms and goods and chattels.

    Obedient, the matrons
    packed up their lares and penates, hid
    their rhytons and red-figured sewing machines.

    The pastor's family
    crammed pigs and geese and silverware
    and great-grossmutter's Biedermeier clock

    and all their feather beds onto an oxcart
    and plodded west. Pious Aeneas
    hoisted his aged father on his back.

    The oxcarts creaked. The Polish chattels
    stood in a silent line along the street
    and watched them leave.

    The Eastern Front was coming closer,
    was bloodily visible and certainly audible,
    a nightlong red Walpurgisnacht

    against which black midwinter trees
    wrung their naked branches
    while the earth-shaker roared.

    Oxcarts and tanks, the tortoise
    and the elephant; and Mama sick
    with a bloodpoisoned finger. Streaks of red

    ran from the sky along her arm
    as she sewed our long-expired American passports
    into our sleeves. We begged her not to die.

    She lived. We fled the pastor's family,
    the household goods, the slow-meandering
    doomed and sacrificial ox-procession

    and clawed our way in through the windows
    of the last train. Were jammed
    among the shot and dying youths and striplings

    of the Wehrmacht. Shared the stale
    black bread from Mama's suitcase, passed
    dark station platforms thronged with ghosts

    who wailed and held their arms out to us
    in vain. The train sped past. Oh fortunate,
    who crossed into the country of the saved.

  5. Cassandra

    Your looking makes it visible.
    Wild flares and gold striations
    in the sun's eye.

    My looking makes visible a silver airplane
    turning and climbing in a bright blue sky.
    A chromium toy shooting real bullets.
    We are lying in a ditch.
    The train stands on the tracks
    with all its doors and windows open.
    The locomotive burns.
    (Across the stubble-field
    a tiny farm house: but all of us
    are lying in the ditch, not safe
    in a farm house eating bread and milk.)
    The silver plane turns and returns.
    The locomotive burns.
    We cover our heads with our arms
    but still I saw and see the silver flash,
    the blue and burning February sky.

  6. Penelope

    Ten years went by.
    I polished the glass in other people's houses.
    I learned to live on stone soup.
    My needle flashed.

    I stitched a fallow field with nettles.
    I said I will walk naked among them:
    Only come.

    Downstairs the suitors are eating breakfast
    and starting to quarrel.

    I appliqued an anchor
    signifying Hope.

    Ten years and no letter.
    His handwriting was beautiful in my eyes.
    I embroidered a hair shirt with alpha and beta.
    He told me once: make Roman capitals
    not those Nazi Gothic letters.

    Downstairs the suitors are toasting you,
    tossing the glasses into the fireplace.

    He sold the Bohemian glass
    before the Party got their hands on it.
    Others were shipwrecked, drowned, were shot or captured.
    He slipped through the Eastern Front, elegant
    even in a bullet-torn uniform, an amusing disguise.
    War left him cold. But Aphrodite
    waylaying him beside the icy Baltic —

    Moonrise. Rip out
    the nettles the letters A to Z capital and minuscule
    the ship the dove-grey amber-bearing sea. Snip
    the anchor chain. There.
    Let's go see what the suitors are up to.

  7. Ariadne

    The ball of silk was unwinding as she spoke.
    I followed where it led, the compass needle
    flashed round and round.

    She knotted the thread. They dragged the bull's head out.
    Dragged the sea-bed
    for the titanic anchor,
    and all the youths and maidens
    took up their backpacks
    and took ship for Naxos.
    She threaded the needle with wine-dark silk.

    You were the heroine.

    Yes, so I was and am.
    Naxos — how beautiful in the blue gulf —
    all sand and palest sandstone, wash of roses.
    The roseate nesting terns that fluttered up
    like Aphrodite's doves around us,
    a little piney woods, and cantharelli
    — gold goblets from the hand of earth.
    I was exhausted — slept on Theseus's shoulder —
    and when I woke —

    The black sail dipping on the horizon.

    Alone I abandoned myself to grief,
    an abandoned woman. I writhed
    upon the sand, I gnawed my hair.
    I wept until grief turned to fury.
    When the sun
    began to set I saw that I had better
    prepare for a long stay. They'd left me
    three matches and a tarp. In time
    I had a blazing driftwood fire,
    and chanterelles and mussels sizzled
    in a tin can I'd found.
    I wrote it all down in my journal.

    Tell about the god.

    Coming toward me through an azure
    sky? Clothed in light? With silver wings that beat
    the halcyon-dazzled air?

    She bit the thread.
    Night fell.

  8. Dream

    where I lived with many others,
    my separate selves.

    A labyrinth?

    Perhaps. There was one

    a god

    who watched me. Wanted
    and desired me. I left. He
    followed. I did flee, became

    a reed, a flower, a tree.

    He hunted me,
    shut me up in an earthen room
    whose walls kept shrinking. Waved
    a budding oak branch over me.
    I closed my eyes and saw

    a tiny door?

    I crept out through that door

    to the underside of the world. A flat plain
    before dawn, a wispy cloudland
    trailing mist, where shrouded trees like storks
    nodded and swayed together.
    There was no other in this empty, pale­
    before-the-sunrise landscape.
    I started to walk home.

    My heart began to pound —
    I'd caught a glimpse —

    — my back was turned —
    tell what you saw.

    The mist rolled back in patches.
    A band of crones and sorcerers
    wearing beaks and plumes and antlers
    was stalking you.

    Then — my pursuer?

    Raised his bow.
    The arrow flew.
    You dropped.

  9. Cassandra

    The sad woman then spoke
    lifting her face from her hands
    so that her black hair tumbled down

    (she was a madwoman in real
    that is in former life — or so
    I seemed in waking to remember)

    and though I could not understand
    the words of what she said, I knew she felt;
    I felt her feelings. Oh! It was my former language

    she fluently or trippingly did utter.
    (The stuttering spokes of oxcart wheels
    that rattled without tires over the cobbles

    in what was formerly the fatherland
    but before that Poland which it is
    now formally, if briefly.) The sexton

    is even now digging the former city
    up with his spade because the trapped
    survivors are calling from the cellar

    buried in the black hold of — a freighter?
    And of the anchor — speak, alter echo.
    Hail, great bull's head.

    The god.
    The silver horns.
    The bearded anchor chain.

    But I rattle on. There were survivors.
    Did they but all alone bewail their state?
    They didn't. They took picks & mattocks

    & sticks & all manner of tools
    and hacked a tunnel through the bricks
    beneath the Styx beneath their

    former city's battlements that lay
    in ruins — all, all in ruins.
    Was nothing of them found?

    Oh certainly — some runes that ran
    about the place of execution
    in strict formation, though the capitals

    were not those Nazi ugly Gothics but
    upstanding Roman letters. More anon.
    Burn this — anonymous. A landscape by

    Hieronymus the Boche was what
    so baffled — no battered — the imagination
    of this future dreamer.

    Unwind the ball of thread.
    What color have we come to?
    Orange to red to blood-red went the sky.

    It was the burning villages we saw,
    the pillaged villages they set afire
    whose names were stricken from our tongues

    as from the map, too. Our one long
    muddy street stippled with deep familiar prints
    of oxen. Flights of pigeons from the belfry

    that wicked boys did wring the necks and strip
    for pigeon pies. Not wicked. Famished.
    Grandmother on her feather bed

    in the oxcart. The horizon blazed.
    That noise is just machine guns,
    still distant. But my coat, at least, was warm

    especially with all those skirts and sweaters
    under it. I wore my rucksack
    and held my little brother's hand

    and Mama held the suitcase
    filled with bread. The gentle swaying
    of the tumbrils. Tumblehome, a term

    for a particular curve a ship can take.
    The freighter took me home,
    I tumbled into sleep. Or stumbled

    into the New World. Ate
    my first American candy bar
    and learned to read in English,

    the mother tongue. Some words
    were the same: Brief, a letter. Also brief
    as in a short letter.

    He wrote no letter. I became
    an innocent child. You, Selfsame One,
    grew up to have dark hair (but I am blond

    — grey now to tell the truth)
    and speak in tongues.
    And you no longer answer to my name.

  10. Ariadne: the Prophesy

    That she would come to Delos.
    That the sea
    would foam around her sandals, harmlessly.

    Of roses, crinkled, salt-stung, garlanding
    a granite shore,
    the driftwood-strewn, the dulse-embroidered strand.

    And of the god

    an altar-stone among the mossy roots.
    Horns of a stag beside an altar-stone.
    Herm of a god beside the boundary-stone.

    The dance he taught
    the dance she learned

    and still is danced and still the song is heard.