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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 2, June 2012


Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia, USA

From The Lost Wax

1. The Potter

Brush them, potter,
dolphins seashells starfish squid,
gifts of the fields in moistened slip:
remind us of what we'll always love
. . . and what we leave behind . . .

Were your father not a potter, or his father before him, you would not have found yourself descending those fine stone steps each day to your spacious workshop. The finely-wrought cups from which the king enjoyed his wine were filled as well from oenochoai you adorned with writhing octopi and other delightful creatures, work that made you famous as far away as Ilion. The royal stores of olives, honey, of wine and wheat and barley, all were kept in pithoi you gave handsome shape from mere clods of earth: no small accomplishment. Even the ships of Tarshish lined their holds with the handiwork of your guild, often gifts with which one king soothes and sways another. And rest in this: the queen, whose beauty you long admired from a tradesman's distance, had kissed the lips of goblets worked by your very hands.

So proud of your skills was the king that he once took you to Egypt—do you remember, of course you do—and on that long sea voyage it must have seemed as if an enormous door had opened for you to simply walk through, to step out into a world so much more than an island, even one as large as ours. There, where they call our peoples Keftiu, you stood beside our king as bearers, some of whom were your apprentices, bore the splendid jars, your finest work. With slow and solemn step, they laid them before a child aswim in folds of precious fabric, a boy not much older than you were when you began your art.

And how beside yourself with pride you were when the young pharaoh received them so admiringly—I can almost imagine your face—as he traced your whirling figures with a long-nailed, girlish finger, his heavily painted eyes alight with wonder despite himself. Of this we've often spoken. Surely by then you'd come to realize that your hands and many talents would bejewel your very existence, blessèd Keftiu, potter to the King.

How fine a sight
our island glimpsed by nearing sail
its beaches washed
as no other shore on earth
by Amphitrite's fond attentions

And after the boy-king's lavish reception—you told of it more than once —you passed your one night in their great city stalking pleasure through its narrow, clamorous streets thick with the reek of animals, food and dung, of dust and exquisite perfumes . . .but you were young and who could begrudge you? When you returned, you confided that you hated Egypt but loved its dark-eyed women. Do you remember?

But time leaps on and fortunes change, my friend; we mourn the days we should have treasured and mar with sad regret the few we're left . . .

But you could not have known they’d left their beaches, and that everything soon would change, for you, your beautiful wife, your lovely daughters, and for me—you couldn’t have known, nor I
                       that Mycenaean ships were bound that fateful day

for fair Knossos….

(1) oenochoai are wine jugs normally made of terracotta and sometimes metal
(2) pithoi are large ceramic vessels used to store and ship goods in bulk
(3) Keftiu is the ancient Egyptian name for Cretans, the 'peoples in the middle of the sea'

2. At Gela

Like streaming eelgrass
we wash our long red ropes of hair
in the sluggish river
for the nymph that lives here
likes to watch . . .

His servant may have carried him in his arms to the shade of the tree that towered over their small mud-brick house. Having made him comfortable, he might have stepped back inside and returned with a scroll and quill to which the master may have waved his bony fingers and, refusing graciously, said, 'No, not today, good Kimon, not today.'

And as if a maelid were running her slender fingers lightly through his hair, the breezes of the afternoon may have lingered in the old poet's thin white curls as he spread the wings of his memory over the long sagging branch of his heart.

Beyond the shade of the great tree, beyond the gate, he may have looked out with accustomed wonder on the golden fields that stretched as far as the eye could see, and beyond the fields, the boundless ocean that was whispering into his ear as an old friend might confide a secret.

That night he may have called Kimon near and as he knelt by the bed, the master might have slipped a trembling hand under his and set a jingling leather pouch upon it, saying that he wished his family well, that he'd never properly thanked him for all he'd done, that he was sorry for being cross so often and such a bother, but most of all, that he would find inside it a letter granting him his freedom. Weeping heavily, Kimon would have known by then that the old warrior was already leaving his footprints along the River. 'Leave me the Rower's fare,' the master might have said, 'the rest is yours: it's all I have.'

And had Kimon stood his vigil, he may have listened far into the night as a nightingale sang from the tree outside their window, the darkness moist and redolent with a fragrance of grass and earth as if borne on a breeze all the way from Elysium which seemed so close

while the great lamp, the veteran of Marathon, the pride of Athens and all of Greece, guttered and went out at Gela.

This mountain's secret is the son of Euphorion of Athens—
             Aischylos. He died by Gela's wheatfields.
But a wood in Marathon could speak of his famous strength,
             And so could the thick-haired Mede who felt it.

                                                               Aischylos (525-456 BCE)
                                                                             Translated by Edwin Morgan



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