Song of the Water Lillies
after Hylas and the Nymphs
I will return, Hercules. Fear not, this land
holds cellars of nectar & ambrosia— every grove
and valley pulses with the slumbering of the half-
dead. He wrapped my torso, parsed in silk. Said
may the promise of victory rise upon your laurels.
Fare you well, my love. Be swift. Know no evil.
Look not to the nymphs of the river, they wait for men
to stumble upon their glade, then make nests of their flesh.
You know maidens, they like to tease. His eyes like fists.
The forest had a stillness. The leaves, my shifting audience
to a lone man’s soliloquy. The oaks parted. The sun crawled. At the river’s
edge, I felt no divinity, no gods pulled me forward & no mortals held me
back. Only naiads. Come into the water, my love. We raise no harm.
Us mistresses of the sea, bloom pearls during childbirth, wash away into lake-
foam. We know no Olympus. But you, a God, you of men & fire & a furnace
you staking wars of heaven and earth? Stay, here where the lily pads make
silly fancies with the breeze. Here, where the reeds obey only the rubber-sheen
of the dew after a rain. Here, where we were grown, from Gaya’s lips, us
the sinful harmonies before the pipe loses its guiding breath.
The crickets fling their bodies to the shore, there where the grass
is always green, where the zinnias never pale, where the salmon— spawn
always trace the riverbeds home. Now a hand from the surface, rippling the
join of blood. Maybe I know her name. Maybe I was a god because I could
not bear to be a nymph, to be half-mortal. To run with all this price of light.
Every tendon of her body curves into my shadow, till we are one. So this tenderness
is our undoing. So all the flowers in her hair dance upstream. Did the thunder
quiet its own rumbling? I hadn’t quite noticed.
Only the sound of her lips on my full bones.