the courtyard is full of her
daughters, my sisters, little figures
of exquisite stone. their eyes
stare unblinking, each strand
of hair clearly defined forever
immortalised. i used to dash
between the girls, giggling,
playing tag with their ghosts.
as i got older and needed more,
i would lay my head on grey
chests, carved breasts, and
listen to the slow tolling
of their hearts.
i was the firstborn son, at least
as far as i knew, the only one
she let live. she was careful
to avoid my gaze, made me
swear I’d never peek at her face.
i drank in the rest of her,
would grab onto her leg,
the slim arch of her calf
and she would laugh, her voice
alive with music if music
could ever be so beautiful.
people ask me if I was afraid
of her snake-nest hair and I
say, how could I? they sang
me to sleep each night,
a susurrus of hissing love.
sweet sisters, come and play
with me, sweet sisters break
free, come out come out, I
am so very lonely with only
your hearts for company.
i was twelve when I discovered
the valley of our fathers.
tall trees spread green wings
above the statued men,
hundreds across the hills
in various states of repose.
i devoured their lean muscles,
chiseled features, the sloping
V leading to a proud hardness
i began to mimic. my heart,
stoned for so long, began
to crack that summer, it beat
so hard so fast so sweet.
I set upon her all at once:
mother, i said, is my father a rock
in that valley? tell me the truth
and she turned away, hissing
that i should be more careful
to not surprise her, lest i join
her would-be lovers there.
those men were not the fathers
of my children, she said, just
thieves and those ensnared
in glory’s gilded hands, both
trying to steal my privacy
if not my life. I am not some
foolish maid to be taken
on a whim, and this valley,
my home, is testament enough
to the fragility of men.
i don’t know how much is true.
i found nothing of villainy in them
but then, how could i, freed
as they were, of the sins of flesh?
ennobled by death's grace
(not a single one had a heart
that beat), their sculpted quiet
provided no answers. some days
i laid against their cool strength
and pressed into them, aching,
imagining at times, they dared
to press back—just an inch
an inch is all i needed,
a moment in which to yield.
i left my mark on many a man
and they in turn marked me
with their indifference.
you must know i outgrew
their cold embrace, yearning
for a heat to match mine.
i roved further outward each day
until i came across a village,
just an ordinary village, thatched,
but full of boys and girls,
sun-loved and carefree.
i watched, hidden in the woods
as they worked the fields,
collapsing at dusk into
the nearby river. One boy,
Perseus, had me gripped
in his fist from the outset,
and i befriended him
with the ease of boyhood,
so lost in lust i ignored
the faint touch of tragedy
already beginning to bloom.
i spent the winter haunting him.
i know this as i heard his parents cry
one night, grabbing his torn tunic,
his bruised youth—"what possesses you,
boy, what fey spirit keeps you
in the wild? Stay out of the woods."
i never heard his reply, felt only
the remembered burn of his lips
searing my skin. We touched,
we kissed, but it was only this
simple bliss, nothing i thought
in spring he entered me as the river
enters the sea, a seamless joining,
a pounding. i saw it come over him
then, a reckless light, and he turned
me over, snarling, all beast no boy.
"you did this to me," he spat
with more venom than any snake
i ever heard, and blows rained
upon my back. i did not break
with my first love though the grass
that muffled my cries might
tell a different story.
night’s fullness could not hide
the extent of the mess he’d made
of my skin. Mother gasped
when i returned, a dozen cold-
blooded eyes revealing my state.
be careful, stone of my heart,
she said. mortal men hunger
for us, and some mistake need
for love. it will eat you entire
if you let it—if fate is unkind—
and maybe even if you don’t.
the seasons passed with no respite,
though i finally grew into my frame
and could not be wrestled so easily
into the ground. One night, in our
favourite cove, as we strained
together, i bested Perseus
and pinned him to the earth.
i took him there and he subsided,
the flame that once raged in his flesh
now hosted in mine. i delighted
in his salty tang, in no longer being
the wide open sea but the forceful
narrows of river. when i was spent,
enraptured, i felt him stiffening
beneath me, not as flesh but as stone.
aghast, i reared back just in time
to see his body becoming
one with the cavern.
i could have filled the valley of men
with my grief such was its volume
as i ran home. did you know, mother?
could you see my love would turn
to stone if I dared to love in turn?
Medusa’s back, the face i knew
better than any other, shook, serpent-
hair silent for a change. she said,
you are my first, I could only guess.
Then: would it have changed anything?
i could not answer her, thinking—
knowing—my need was too great,
& would have claimed me either way.
Now you see, my son, why i made art
of my daughters, why they adorn our yard.
I knew for them the cost of living, the price
that waited to be paid, and wished to spare
them a life of grit. A boy, I hoped, might be
free of this curse, but it seems my efforts
have been for naught. the taint of my line
is too strong. Would that I could reverse
my actions and return your sisters to life.
her voice echoed, hollow, robbed of music.
she did not know, i realised. come,
i said and led her to the living
tomb of our silent family. Eyes creased
shut, hands trembling, her fingers groped
the air. i guided her forward, placed them
on my eldest sister, a tall girl, arms spread,
inviting even in her final moment of flesh.
Listen, i said, to the din your daughters make
every day while you kept your distance
and as she stood there weeping, the crack
of breaking stone filled the air.