The Crown of Laurel
He liked to feel my fingers in his hair.
So he pulled them off me, wove a wreath of them,
and wears it at parades and contests,
my dying fingers with their kitchen smell
interlocked around his sunny curls.
Sometimes he rests on me a while.
Aside from that, he seems to have lost interest.
It wasn’t to preserve my virtue that I ran!
What’s a nymph like me
to do with something that belongs to men?
It’s just I wasn’t in the mood.
And he didn’t care. It scared me.
The little goatleg boys can’t even talk,
but still they wait till they can smell you feel
like humping with a goatleg in the woods,
rolling and scratching and laughing — they can laugh! —
poor little hairycocks, I miss them.
When we were tired of that kind of thing
my sister nymphs and I would lie around
and talk, and tease, and stroke, and chase, and stretch
out panting for another talk, and sleep
in the warm shadows side by side
under the leaves, and all was as we pleased.
And then the mortal hunters of the deer,
the poachers, the deciduous shepherd-boys:
they’d stop and gape and stare with owly eyes,
not even hoping, even when I smiled...
New every spring, like daffodils, those boys.
But once for forty years I met one man
up on the sheep-cropped hills of Arcady.
I kissed his wrinkles, the ravines of time
I cannot enter, gazing in his eyes, whose dark
dimmed and deepened, seeing less always, till he died.
I came to his burial. Among the villagers
I walked behind his grey-haired wife.
She could have been Time’s wife, my grandmother.
And then there were my brothers of the streams,
O my river-lovers, with their silver tongues,
so sweet to thirst! the cool, prolonged delight
of a river moving in me, of his flow and flow and flow!
They send to my roots their kindness, even now,
and slowly I drink it from my mother’s hands.
So that was all I knew, until he came
hard, bright, burning, dry, intent:
one will, instead of wantings meeting:
no center but himself, the Sun. A god
is like that, I suppose; he has to be.
But then, I never asked to meet a god,
let alone make love with one. Why did he think
I wanted to? And when I told him no,
what harm did he think it did him?
It can’t be hard to find a girl agape
to love a big blond blue-eyed god.
He said so, said, “You’re all alike.”
He’s seen us all; he knows. So, why me?
I guess that maybe it was time for me
to give up going naked, and get dressed.
And it took a god to make me do it.
Mother never could. So I put on
my brown, ribbed stockings, and my underwear
of silky cambium, and my green dress.
And I became my clothing, being what I wear.
I run no more; the winds dance me.
My sister, seamstress, sovereign comes
up from the dark below the roots
to mend my clothes in April. And I stand
in my green patience in the winter rains.
He honors me, he says, to wear
my fingers turning brown and brittle, clenched
in the bright hair of his head. He sings.
My silence crowns the song.