The powerful one loves the present: it suits.
The talkative one loves the future: it echoes.
The one who loves the past soon goes there.
/Wall face, Diana's esprit, tusked wall
that looms so fast with camera-shake
thru aspens & hazel thickets down root-hammered declivities
where honeysuckle elder & bramble
& the grey-yellow dodgem boles
play blind man's buff with the fated/
Then a vineyard was pulled over at at Peppermint Farm,
& the livestock was rough-slaughtered
or drove off into the mist at Sweetmeal Farm,
which was equally remote... these places are hopeful crofts
at the far end of Aetolia, practically in the wood,
they scrape by with grants from the military,
yes, thin scrapings of marginal land, moss & hard bog,
not many people get up there & what they say
is a bit doubtful, you tend to forget because of the names,
but somehow the news drifted into fly-ridden Pleuron.
It took a grip on the public, you know, a bloody mystery.
And no doubt at the big house they got a better picture:
more information, and they was more mixed up in it —
cos Oeneus & more especially his wife,
well she owned land or leased it all through to Calydon,
and constant travellers all of them, in well-armed parties
the agents and the children that was all grown-up now
sweated through Aetolia on diplomacy, on business.
Not that other folks kept silent when they should of,
ashamed to display their ignorance.
Far from it. The bars was thick with rumour,
they grew cosy and they sold a lot of drinks on the basis of
monstrous historical precedents, the engirdled
progeny of a lake stung into menace by leeches
& churning loam with fiery saurian tails
(the plural tails of a jellyfish)
& filleting teeth. Or else there was explanations,
doubly clever, triply subtle explanations:
my old Dad heard it said in the market
that the beast was not even a beast at all
but just cover for marauding Acarnanians
armed with hides & wooden props, a contraption
whose blueprint come supposedly from Crete.
& many, (coteries of urban sceptics,
each thinking itself alone, significant... you know the type),
well they spoke openly of the mischievous wind,
of bark fallen from a decaying tree,
the odd effects of light on leaves near water
& impressionable peasants.
“Yes, yes,” says my old Dad, “but it’s autumn, you see.
A funny old time at the best; a season engendering black
if you give ways to it; precautions is in order,
long hikes is rash, if they can be avoided —
you don't know your weakness on the tottery heather
in the sinking light until perhaps it’s too late;
and then where are you?
Also, water turns sharp and all should lay aside
bathing without purpose. Oh yes, this touches the matter:
sharp water among the bare trees.
In autumn, the shimmer blows off & things is seen as they is,
the mild sun throws an equal light on all,
branches emerge from hiding & the air goes crisp with seeing.”
(He always made a speech this time of year.)
& in a general way it come to this:
“All the stories from out of Calydon –
dreadful for them concerned, oh dreadful it must of been –
yes, it’s credible, nothing more likely...”
& thus he refutes the sceptics, quite right as it turned out,
& though many lying reports travelled the highway,
the house of Oeneus distinguished in fear, even then.
“Also, intimacy with women & their forests,
the black forest where suffocated roses bloom
between your Callisto's sleepy thighs,
where you snore disgracefully, will sap your vigour —
for such is autumn...” Thus Phoenix calls up to me
from out in the street, rousing me
to walk with him to the town's end, a mile beyond it
perhaps, to see what new sign of his presence
the beast had thought fit to trace. & not far off.
Then for the first time I seen
his enormous trotterprints on the slats
& one old chap, a bargeman I had to do with
two summers previous, when I was tradin salt,
he takes me aside, he points out a violent white gash
in the oak door of a swaying granary.
From above our heads it run, furiously S-shaped,
down to our feet, & draggled along the ground,
rootin out pebbles, clods & stamped straw.
We went silent measuring the range of his tusks.
He was a big, big bastard.
There was two men talking earnestly to one other –
& him I knew by sight as Plexippus;
the brother of grand Althaea who married
Oeneus himself. A man of substance, obviously;
it must of been his tenant’s place, but where’s the tenant?
Plexippus, well he took a grave view, of course.
“It needs looking at,” he says firmly.
“I know all about that. We'll deal with it.”
He seemed unhappy. I wandered back to the barn,
& froze in the door-way; there was an angry official shout.
In the gloom I seen four bodies laid in a row:
the tenant & his wife lay there in crippled peace
with a ribbon of muslin wrapped around their midriffs.
The other two was children & lay naked.
This much I saw, & then I was socked in the back
& hauled choking before the great man. “Now here's a tosser
“with an overactive neck,” says Plexippus.
“The first of many, no doubt, come for a picnic
“& to view the ruins.” The bouncer renewed his grip,
with a ragged wall to wedge me against.
I seen Phoenix loitering miserably nearby.
“I suppose you must be the High Street expert in banes,”
I was semi-addressed, “could tell me a thing or two, eh?
People in & out the shop all day; gabbing like turkeys.”
He was livid. He bawls at me (well, obviously
he needed someone to bawl at) “Who the hell did this?
“Some of your shopkeepers, maybe? Who regulates the ships?
Who monitors boarding – who checks the fucking passports?”
(Now he turns back to the commissioners.)
“You ask what is your duty. For pity’s sake
your first is to close this down.
Right now. For God's sake take control.”
They fling me down and give me the usual treatment
with a few lookers-on; when they’d all gone off to dinner,
Phoenix come and dragged me from the brambles.
“Meleager! Tell me you’re joking,” I says to him,
“What gets into you in them fields?
That is about the last person on earth
who could sort our problems. Look what
they done to me already!”
“Meleager's all right. He won’t get to hear about this,
you know his mother keeps him like a string of pearls,
nobody tells him nothing of what goes on.
Most of the people I talk to think that his brother
will be the man. You know how people talk.
But he's wanted action for a long time.
He boxes trees in the park, with blood instead of gloves. He flings
a patio slab across the river, and he swims back holding it
out of the water in one hand. Nothing scares him.”
“My my, do we have a lot of posh contacts.”
“Only Meleager. I had to deliver some nets;
he wanted to fish; I shown him some our places,
two or three nights we fished in the spring. I
wasn’t to say. But, you know, I seen him walk out
to the furthest fringes of a bowing willow,
& go silent til I swore he wasn’t there,
you know how you blink and blink when you’re unsure,
& then BAM! he bust an eel's neck with a stone.”
“But what’s the point? What’s this to you and me?”
“All my family is here. & I'm afraid.
Believe me I don’t want to use this contact –
but you can see for yourself...
whatever curse it is that’s come down on us
it might probably take someone who knows
how to burnish his ancestral greaves
& find food on the heath in October;
a man who's trained with centaurs, & whose blood
is richer than this thin red sauce of yours.”
He touched my head, & I felt how my hair
had matted together. The town being tense,
I cleaned up to avoid its questions.
“An eel don’t have no neck,” I says to Phoenix.
I’m thinking, in other words he’s got connections.
“Bro's in his study. Two flights up.
“I don't know if he's expecting you.
“Probably not.” So Tydeus turned his back on us.
A second later he reappears with a towel
& we watch him slip easily
between the dunes to the sea.
Would Poseidon jump on him there, in a dune-slack?
The staring white light and sand
in which his body flickers, all alone.
Meleager looks round quickly, like he’d been caught,
like he was in his own room without leave.
I don’t know what I expected, but not his frightened eyes.
Then he come towards us with heavy steps
which made the attic shudder on its beams.
“I've seen you before. Phoenix, that's the name.
You work a farm we hunt across.”
He looks at me. “You shouldn't have been admitted.
“I requested isolation. No matter.”
“We -” Phoenix introduces me again,>
this time as a victim of his uncle's creepiness.
Meleager drained a green glass of orange juice.
-” so now we had to explain ourselves,
but we didn’t make a lot of sense. We hadn’t prepared a speech.
“Incidents - that came nearer and nearer - the damagee -
spooky damage to farms & land - people...”
Meleager relaxed and he made us sit on chairs by the window
which looked over the black green woods of the park
contiguous once with Calydon, who knows?
Well, who knew now what lurked in its shadows?
I saw how he had stiffened against us,
preparing in bitterness to be terribly bored
- this danger not occurring, his eyes shone;
he walked to his desk & crammed his papers
into a drawer, & capped his pen.
Restless & shivering in their gantries
they heard at night the siffling on the wind
as if a gross hog snuffled in the streets
& drew up by firelit homes, & raised his forefeet:
BANG! the wind blew the street-door open.
The huddled infants locked arms.
Messages went out, steps were heard in courtyards,
the family got involved. Messages came back across the sea,
and strangers followed, dinners and banners,
but that was after; before we got sidelined,
we met in the attic like friends and told our stories.
Stellar beauty of Mel's room, high in the eaves
& from a room all poles, straps, gear & reddened sunlight,
cobwebs in the carpet, old hardwood bricabrac,
some ancient stain; who knows what summer spilt ink.
Conferring, conferring. Phoenix and him,
the charts, the incidents, reports,
weighing them like flour, sound? how sound?
the books pulled half out of the shelf,
mugs of cold coffee on the wood floor,
tables shifted about. Charts flopping over the tables
like a god playing about, bending Aetolia in two.
They sized it up between them, Meleager in earnest
& Phoenix trying to keep him in earnest.
Always, always, we steered him away from one name:
Althaea. She who never made a plan, but stonily
worked one out. Had some such buzz of enthusiasm,
of youth, some ardent and piercing ideal,
how many long years since, produced her?
No, not her, she was a stone’s stone.
Thirty of us
stood at the farther end of the clearing,
a few women also, as if for a spell forgetting
the antagonistic peoples of the forest
& the year's poor yields in corn & wine.
The leafless trees showed chases where it seemed
no animal could hide, & now we just wanted to pace,
murmuring the briefest prayers to gods one daren't refuse
& the more magnificent ancestors. Theseus
was first to step under the canopy
where ash-keys hung windless. He & Pirithous
had a two-man net. Jason held the leads
of four dogs tightly leashed, ears pricked:
he rounded the black bole of a lime tree
& descended a badger-path, sure-footed,
curbing the hounds' haste. Beyond the stream
we meant to release the pack.
Meleager, preoccupied with a girl who'd caught his eye,
fooled around. His spear-point rang
against a branch. The others cursed him.
This girl was an Arcadian, a Tegean;
primitives, basically; she come up the river on a corn-ship
(for that year, we bought in from the plains).
She brought no luggage, she cut her bow and arrows
from the willows by Achelous; had no warm clothes
but she stained her skin with bark, and anointed it
with mud from ditches, giggling and festive.
She inspired a lot of talk among the men,
insulting and excited. Her briar-scratched legs
seemed eager to straddle each man she spoke to,
her knees moved to and fro, as she chattered.
“There's always something you'd find hard;
summer beneath the leaves would be heavy with mosquitoes,
midges in your nose and mouth,
& ants up your arse.”
Phoenix & I took in turns to forage wood,
finally collecting a stockpile.
None approached from larger fires nearby
& I was lonely & resentful, smoky, half-chilled
& aching from the iron ground.
Then from the darkness Oenides stands before me.
“Forget about the hunt for tonight.
No point in discussing futures.
Nothing the hounds sniffed at today
smelled bad enough. Though he was here,
but I think he's heavily stealthed. He is a beast...
a kind of a beast... I haven’t met with before, but...
I’ve sensed his like... I can’t spell it out to you.”
Obviously, not to the likes of us you can’t!
“We should try and get some rest.”
“I can live with that.”
“So could I,
one day. Don't feel like it now.”
He kicks the fire, and shoots a shower of sparks
up into the chill silent air
where each one died into dew & soot, unseen.
“Do you think I'm a nice amiable person?
The sort that people like?”
“Well, not exactly. There’s others I’d have in my quiz team.”
“I'm sorry I invited you now
to my own do. It's the first one I ever gave.
I didn't really know anyone else,
except from books.”
“I mean obviously I’m doing my best.”
“Such as it is.”
“Most of the parties are out of food,” I says to him,
“But I still got some scraps from home.” Meleager looks at me,
& concludes I’m pleased to share food with him.
He threw himself down as if not very hungry,
but he smiled as I laid out a squashed banquet
on leaf litter. In the gloom I had trouble
recalling what cake or cheese lay in what wrapping.
“Did your woman make these? They must of been nice once.”
The smoke swirled around and made me cough.
“I feel I want to act up; to Theseus mostly.
And Telamon. I feel raw & hateful.
I didn't want it to be a social occasion,
going on for days and days. I suppose I thought
we'd be dead by now, or drunk & triumphant.
I've no patience to listen to their dignity.
I should’ve just formed a band. The Fucked Farms.”
“Or the Big Pigs,” said Phoenix. Meleager looks at him,
I look at them both: “Be rude then; if that's your nature.”
“They're lucky and they're good. I'm not.
But their triumphs were years ago.” Meleager brightened.
“If anyone gains honour from this farce,
it must be someone young. I'm twenty.
What's Jason, for God's sake?”
“Well, I was nineteen in June. That must be young enough.”
“I know, but you're a shopkeeper.”
“He can count his years, which I can't.”
That was Atalanta: silent, she come with
an arrow held in each hand, just letting them dry,
& she’d touched up her own paintwork too.
She sank down by Meleager as if the ground was soft.
“But I think, Oenides, I am the youngest.”
Mel took her head in his arms & kissed her cheek
slowly. Hungrily she makes it into an embrace,
& he tightened his hold. I looked at the earth,
at the fire, stunned by what I was seeing. Cos I thought
it was cranked up really high, like they snatched at something
bound to be snapped off, under whatever laws governed
the dark & nightchilled wood. They had no custom.
“There is,” says Phoenix, “a reason for this delay.
A god’s monster would obviously knows who’s here.
It doesn’t run and hide, or roam about for its own reasons
like natural creatures. There’ll be an onset all right,
but the god wants something else to happen first.”
“We’re lucky,” says I, “it could well have rained by now.
My old Dad smelled it and I also thought I seen clouds gather
on the hill-tops. But they moved off.”
Meleager sighed angrily. It was not for this stuff
we stood alone at the vantage point, that afternoon.
He stares at the fires below, misery boiling inside of him.
I was supposed to say nothing, but ready to die.
He hadn’t impressed me that day.
“Meleager – if you’ve got something to say to me,
just say it to my face, all right?”
The expected fury tore free of him, like a canvas roof
eliminated by the wind. He looked at me.
“You know I was with her last night. Atalanta.”
“Well, I saw you by our campfire. You seemed pretty occupied.”
“We didn’t say much. You disappeared. She and I
were alone, the fire died and it began to grow cold,
but we were hugging each other. She kissed me;
her mouth was cold but her breath was warm,
then it was wet and became cold in the night.
I had to keep getting closer and then I became
excited and not cold at all. And I thought we should
go somewhere & finish it off. Although no-one stirred
I thought we might be watched and maybe, I’m sorry for this,
by a shopkeeper?”
“Likely, ain’t it?” says I – knowing too well I’d abandoned my pack
by the fire and spent a sorry night with Phoenix on stones.
“I know – you have a reverence for the great folks.”
I snapped. “I’d do the same for any peasant. I ain’t no pryer,
whatever your uncle says. I’ve got no special friendship for your house.
It’s brought us enough hardship to kill off any fine feelings.
I do for you what I can’t help doing, that’s all.”
“Listen to me. We went away from the camp,
she followed quietly behind me and said nothing.
I lost my appetite, but then we found a place where
our feet bounced on lush grass. I turned and grappled
with her. She made me slow down, and she touched me;
I touched her. We stripped off. I felt her breasts in my face
& I grew hard as a bone. Then she lay down and we –
we tried to do it.” His voice broke.
“What - ?”
“I tried to enter her but I felt something – a blockage.”
“Oh, yes – like a virgin.”
“No! No! As if I would blab about that! Of course
she is a virgin. But this was not an everyday thing.”
And now at last I begun to pity Meleager of the house of Oeneus.
“It was a sort of nub of flesh, like a walnut. I tried
to get through but I couldn’t. Then I lost hardness.
I hugged her but it was sorrow not desire.
She had no idea that anything was wrong. She cried
and cried. I cried. It seemed like it was
the only thing we could do together.
I began to love her much more – and then she said something.”
His eyes shined and I felt pain had gone wrong in him.
“She pitied me – not herself. She saw me walking
alone by the river of death. She saw it and she said it.”
The weather was so dry. Here the cool glossy ilex -
We heard a wild shout among the trees,
disembodied, bewildered, and dying away —
then a long silence. I don’t think anyone thought:
Oh well, here it is, this is the thing we've sought.
A man hung oddly on the hillock's edge,
pregnant with meaning but not eloquent.
Then we heard the bassdrumbattering trotters
of a heavy creature of horrible strength.
& then he rode the ground towards the rise,
where we clustered like stamens
fragile and nodding round a stigma.
Imagine a house swollen with muscles,
his bones like beams, trees snapping like pins,
a churned track behind him,
and beautiful, murderous, vacant,
bushes sprouted from his back,
dust bubbled from his feet,
and brassy air blew from his nostrils.
The noise of his roar filled the valley
like the spate of a hundred streams of scree
and the mallets of all the coppersmiths.
his head lowered like a cream-jug
was the size of a wheelbarrow &
the tusks like lightning-forks. The speed pumped panic
into our veins, & we scattered in all directions.
In contravention of one thing Telamon had said,
I thought of my wife. Oh full, raven hair and
reason, incessant, and sweet, hot madness!
And chuckling together at the moon through a window —
only once been home
& seen our baby suckle at her breast,
& couldn’t smile and killed her smiles stone dead,
& not been open, never said why I was chosen,
& made to depart the next day without equipment or food
just hinting at a long bit of work. & I was
almost angry for her not understanding
my mind, and where it started where it was going,
all which she could of possibly seen in a dream, I suppose.
I was unfair. Remembered her hair unbound
& trailing my shoulders as we bathed.
I was sorry I'd kept her in ignorance,
absent even in her thoughts. I knew some’d say
to Callisto at the well: he's run away.
In the deep bend of a stream my party paused
to take breath. All strained for sounds of conflict.
Jason, eyes lit with divine contact, his medium,
though he was old and trembled, he alone rejoiced.
Taking an arrow from his quiver with a rasping noise
he shot it skywards through a gap in the tree canopy
“For thus,” says he, “do we lure the event.
“You're too young to know. The rules change out here,
“& no-one now should calculate his field in strips
“or count his debts aside from the till.”
Which seemed intended for me and Phoenix.
I grasped at his belief, uplifted like the unguided arrow
but it clattered mere yards away; we watched it glance
off the pocked trunk of a poplar
& lodge with a grunt in the snapped back of
a favoured hound, well-known in Pleuron, Chloe.
Poor awkward stiff old man! He was right, too —
but he knew as if the forest had shouted in his head,
he was not chosen, just here for the ride. Hearing it
lots of times doesn’t make it hurt less.
Our fear was a stone arch with both ends rooted
in our stomachs. We ignored the slithering dog
dying loudly; but Atalanta took aim
& shot her through the head. In the sudden quiet we faced her.
“You bring death on yourselves,” she says.
I saw we were better out of the stream.
We led the others to a point where some view
of the hunting ground was clear between the poles
of saplings, checked by the unfallen leaves
of young oaks. Nothing stirred but ourselves;
we might be alone, barring the wretched corpse
of a fellow huntsman, snagged on a downslope
in the largest glade where the morning frost was smeared,
where heels had lipped in panic & shame.
We had not seen that; now came a wave of remorse & revenge.
The silence didn't last. The brave creature
meant to meet his targets without delay.
& then the boar, the Calydonian boar,
run ragged & sweating with a bloody poll
lurching, pantomimic, piteous,
with odd deliberation lumbers into Mel's spearpoint
& stuck there. Mel churns his shaft like an oar
& the pig's eyes closed in sad calm
while blood & slaver sprayed from his face
drenching the beech leaves. His whole body trembled
like a docked boat in a squall.
Then time began again, but not for the boar.
Others drew round, and wormed their spears in his hide
or hammered his butt with stones. One was Phoenix.
It became hard to know how far the beast was dead,
such was the mass around him, I couldn’t get close.
And grim cheers rose from the shambles, urge and urge again,
Get the bastard get the bastard get the bastard!
Atalanta sat on a stone and wept. I saw her.
Her knees made the same movement as in joy.
“Why?” I asked. “Oenides triumphed. Oenides was chosen.”
“no not chosen not chosen. If he’d been a different person
I could have saved him from this if I’d been a different person
but you never know who you are and it just didn’t work
and now everything is the way I knew it would be
because I am me and I only liked the idea
and his matted hair and eyes but I couldn’t really
like him because if only he’d been different.”
I followed her eyes and there was dust in the air
& through it stumbles Meleager, with red spray on his clothes.
His hands looked odd, seized with cramps,
& I saw he was clutching somethings, bits of boar,
and he was sobbing, holding them out to his girl.
“These are for you, lover.” She painfully took them and he
made a grab at her. She knitted her elbows around her face.
Behind him strode furious Plexippus. “This is indecent,”
he shouted. Meleager picked up a spear – mine.
Plexippus never flinched. “Stop playing this game.
Your mother will thrash you for this. Go and clean
yourself up – you’re a disgrace.”
Meleager looked at him. He was too disgusted to strike.
All honour, all beauty, all gold, all islands were destroyed
in his sight. Ruin, shame and dust stoned him. He bawled,
and a spear-tip grew big like an apple towards my body,
and cracked my shoulder into wickerwork.
I flickered, saw Phoenix waving his arms in dismay,
and then the cruel spear was through Phoenix.
Phoenix, an eel, a catkin, my brother, fell soulless.
Meleager, raving, opened his mouth to the spear.
“Stop this,” I heard Plexippus order. Meleager
walked hogtied to his death, on strange little steps,
as the books say.
For a winter month I lay in the warm wood,
watching the scampering squirrels and swooping jays,
the mist breathing from a fire and smarting my eyes
and snatched by the wind and dissolved by the pittering rain.
The trees moaned and moaned and to me they comforted
by mourning Phoenix. Oh do you step
Too close to the fire
Do you step, do you step
Too close to the fire
Well it’s me, it was me
Too close to the fire
and the tune became nonsense but it soothed me.
Once at night, I think, Atalanta fucked me
and it was fine, no problem. But I can’t be sure.
I lay shaded by the woodbine never bare of leaves,
and spring came in Calydon, I began to hear,
and I hear the sound of distant traffic,
I looked for hours at an horizontal line, puzzling,
until I seen it was barbed wire. For the wood was not
like that dense green puff of lovely primeval ground,
that fragment monastery of nature
lingering sweetly in the park of Oeneus,
where Meleager’s study overlooked it, that evening.
No, it was hacked and scarred,
replanted and regimented, rutted with
tractor tracks and seamed with telegraph poles,
gravelled sidings, garden plants
sprouting on brick-strewn banks,
and the trees were marked with plastic ties
and coloured codes, rhododendron, fencing, bales of hay
and hides made out of pine, the ground
spattered with gaily-coloured cartridges,
Private Keep Out, infant plantations of
Pseudotsuga, Tsuga, Picea,
sorry saplings ringed by mesh,
and then there was the quarrying, the BMX,
the 4WDs in blank-eyed processions on Sundays...
When she had sung me to health, Atalanta says:
“That arm won’t work again. You’ll be a hero
to the customers. But you’ll think nothing of that.
Take Callisto in your one good arm and kiss her;
kiss your daughter and then share your bed with Callisto.
I am sure she is a fine woman. You have secrets
together and now, because of him —
you may live.
Business will sort itself out for you. I see your