Lamia always was more snake
than woman; the witch gave me up
to Hermes for what she called love
and was on her feet by the time
I was dragged towards the sunset.
You can’t tell me that she believed
a swift god would remain faithful
or (be honest) satisfying.
Myths may rush to a premature
point, yet that doesn’t make them true –
between me and you, Lamia
didn’t disappear, she was trapped
once more in a glittering hide
and Lycius survived the loss.
He moulted every azure trace
of scandal, left it all behind.
He found a sensible woman
and then – unbewitched - married her.
He is worn bald, his wife dulled
by the respectability
both touched by their own misery –
knowing there was something better
once, knowing there never will be.
No one remembers me. I watch
Lamia the snake shed sapphire
tears for her loss, coil her body
into his garden’s dark corners.
Their decay is my first solace.
Now I use the speed and magic
drilled into me – hand Lycius
(just a middle-aged gardener)
a sharp-tined fork she might one day
be skewered on, whisper rainbows
from Lamia’s lips into his dreams,
drop hints of both to his wife.
There is no real need for me here -
once again, their own devices
are clockwork. I’ll exit stage left
at night: as he labours to make
suitable heirs, she brews venom.
About the poem
This poem was published in October 2016 and is featured on The Literateur website.
The poem is a reimagining of Keats’ beautiful poem Lamia. Keats’ work is a mythic tale of tragic love but this work has a rather more pragmatic view on what constitutes a romantic tragedy. The poem takes the perspective of the nymph who - in Keats’ telling - is but a pawn in Lamia’s game, given over to Hermes in exchange for a chance for Lamia to meet her love, Lycius, and then promptly forgotten in the narrative. I felt that this nymph deserved a chance to raise her voice and when considering what might satisfy her in terms of revenge I thought perhaps instead of tragic lovers who die when their love becomes impossible, she might feel more vindicated if they both survived their heartbreak.