Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 16: B.J. Buckley

This is another poem that I first read while judging last year’s Poetry Super Highway contest. It’s a marvelous example of a myth poem, or a poem which performs ekphrasis in response to a story or character from mythology. Diana the Hunter shows up in a few places in modern literature; possibly my favorite reference to her is Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy which begins with A Discovery of Witches.

I love the character of Diana the Hunter and the way Buckley characterizes her here: agencied, powerful, unapologetic, vivid and unafraid and embracing. She has the same verve as Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, who howls of Claudio, “O God, that I were a man! I / would eat his heart in the marketplace.”

But Diana isn’t filled with heartbroken sorrow for her cousin’s unfair misfortune and its resulting vengeful fury.

Buckley’s Diana knows from an early age the full scope of life and death and her place in that cycle, and she operates within it with extraordinary clarity and confidence.

Diana in Autumn

I am not afraid to say I live by blood.
Before that red flow gushed
from my own belly
I was a swimmer elbow-deep
in the carcasses of deer,
I ripped breath’s tunnel
from a slit throat,
used all my strength
against the weight
of a stomach full of grass
and alder shoots.
I held a heart, still beating,
in my hand,
took with soft lips
from the blade of my father’s knife
that slice of liver, hot and raw,
my first communion.
Before my breasts bloomed
I had burned bodies,
torn flesh from bones,
howled the mad wild joy of it.
Eden is closed,
and I in every ruddy leaf
am Fallen.
I love the incense of decay,
the deer,
this dust we are
and were and will be,
the arrow singing slaughter
in my hand.

***

B.J. Buckley is a Montana poet and writer who has worked in Arts-in-Schools/Communities programs throughout the West and Midwest for over 45 years in schools, libraries, hospitals, senior centers and homeless shelters. Her work has appeared in Whitefish Review, ellipsis, Sugar House Review, December, Sequestrum, About Place Journal, The Comstock Poetry Review, and many others. Her most recent book is Corvidae, Poems of Ravens, Crows, and Magpies, with woodcut illustrations by Dawn Senior-Trask, Lummox Press 2014.

Poem-A-Day: Sarah Blake

Lately I’ve been exploring myth poetry and fairy tale poetry with my Creative Writing students. These are ekphrastic forms, responding in some way to some other art that has gone before –– in these cases, the art being cultural and literary. It’s amazing stuff, and I love it, and they seem to as well. In fact, every year I teach these, the myth poems and fairy tales poems my students write are sometimes their best work to date.

So I recently came across this myth poem, which offers the reader such a smooth transition from dreamlike story to gut punch. If you enjoyed Kelly Cressio-Moeller’s poem last week, even though this poem by Sarah Blake is stylistically different, my guess is you’ll dig on this one, too.

***

Aphrodite’s Dreaming

A shark bites my hip
and I watch the blood
curl out into the sea.

Poseidon pushes him
away and runs his hand
over the teethmarks, each
a little frown.

He’s having me
for tea, and everyone
is naked. He says, That’s
how fish are. Don’t be so

embarrassed. But that’s
not the right word.
I stir my tea with his
trident. I stir my tea

with his crown. I stir
my tea to forget
how he touches me,
knowing soon I’ll wake.

***

Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West and the forthcoming collection, Let’s Not Live on Earth (both from Wesleyan University Press). An illustrated workbook accompanies her first chapbook, Named After Death (Banango Editions). In 2013, she was awarded a literature fellowship from the NEA. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son. http://www.sarahblakepoetry.com

Featured Poet: Cindy Clayton

Tonight’s poem is from another not-a-poet-for-her-day-job, Cindy Clayton. She is a good friend of mine, and she always loves to participate in whatever call for poetry I have her on my blog, and I love it when she does, because her poems are so much fun. I especially like the way her poem just strolls around, all natural-like, and then — bazinga! — really gets you at the end.

 

***

 

What I learned from mythology:

 

Never direct insults at those with terrible powers
and vengeful natures.

 

If you wish to be deathless,
you must also wish to be ageless.

 

Lie low, pretty young women,
lest someone from the pantheon claim you
and proceed with all manner of indignities.

 

If you need to do something that’s impossible,
get a god to sponsor your endeavor
and you may just have a chance.

 

No defensive mechanism exists which can’t be beaten
with a little ingenuity.

 

Should you happen to spot a goddess in the altogether,
turn quickly away
and just keep walking.

 

Metamorphosis is forever, so think twice—
unless you’re a god,
in which case the sky’s the limit.

 

But usually, a simple disguise will serve
when you’re in a tight spot.

 

And if your story is utterly tragic, or impressively heroic,
or you manage to please the right deity,

 

You could end up among the stars.