from Helen in Egypt
my hell is no worse than yours
though you pass among the flowers and speak
with the spirits above earth.
… my spirit with its loss
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks;
hell must break before I am lost;
before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.
few were the words we said,
nor knew each other,
nor asked, are you Spirit?
are you sister? are you brother?
are you alive?
are you dead?
the harpers will sing forever
of how Achilles met Helen
among the shades,
but we were not, we are not shadows;
as we walk, heel and sole
leave our sandal-prints in the sand,
though the wounded heel treads lightly
and more lightly follow,
the purple sandals.
How could I hide my eyes?
how could I veil my face?
with ash or charcoal from the embers?
I drew out a blackened stick,
but he snatched it,
he flung it back,
“what sort of enchantment is this?
what art will you wield with a fagot?
are you Hecate? are you a witch?
a vulture, a hieroglyph,
the sign or the name of a goddess?
what sort of goddess is this?
where are we? who are you?
where is this desolate coast?
who am I? am I a ghost?”
“you are living, O child of Thetis,
as you never lived before,”
then he caught at my wrist,
“Helena, cursed of Greece,
I have seen you upon the ramparts,
no art is beneath your power,
you stole the chosen, the flower
of all-time, of all-history,
my children, my legions;
for you were the ships burnt,
O cursed, O envious Isis,
you–you–a vulture, a hieroglyph”;
“Zeus be by witness,” I said,
“it was he, Amen dreamed of all this
phantasmagoria of Troy,
it was dream and a phantasy”;
O Thetis, O sea-mother,
I prayed, as he clutched my throat
with his fingers’ remorseless steel,
let me go out, let me forget,
let me be lost………
O Thetis, O sea-mother, I prayed under his cloak,
let me remember, let me remember,
forever, this Star in the night.