To true the walls, we put a drib of oil
in a shallow cup
and lay on top an olive leaf
and on the leaf
a flake from off the Anatolian
hammers we use
to set the lintels and split beams.
lay everywhere, peppering the floor,
scuttling in the dust. They would
each to the others, in a clot.
You hear princess, you think some child.
She was not young.
She lived a life apart at Gortyna,
away from palace
things, more like a nun almost,
to tend her brother.
She spoke to him like others
calmed, perhaps, by the tea-scent
of her hair,
her nails on him, the gentle way
she poulticed mud
to salve the wounds he gave himself.
Suffice to say the suitor who appeared
that year in autumn
in his dark-beaked galley took
her by surprise.
Her father sent no herald. But she liked
northern face. He gave her splendorous
I’ve come to make these things all right again
and I come to you
with mercy of the gods for him
and thanks to you
the sad fellow will at last be free.
So the halfmoon past his coming she
made gifts of sage
and beeswax, tallow soaps and stones
to tell the gods
her eagerness (she never could do goats
or even birds)
and told him secrets one-two-three
and showed him threadwork
from her girlhood. With confiding hand
she traced love plans
upon his chest and abdomen of meals
they would share
and abundant teeming garden hives.
I know you think you know. But I am
just the beam
and chisel guy. I built a portico
as would befit
a prison. Full stop. The rest are fairy tales
told by swindlers.
This much I can tell you:
No magic ball
of string or ball of magic string
what have you
rolled forward like some schnauzer
de-vermining the cave.
She was the magic. She herself. And when
the day came, she
tied onto the high doorframe a hem-
thread of her bleachwhite
gown and danced him forward, unraveling
until at last
the dress was gone, and they stood where
he sat in cowfilth,
allayed to hear her breathing near, she now
naked to both.
Then it was one-two-three and afterward,
spindling the thread
around the bludgeon, he walked out.
The desolation calls are hard to tell.
The cave could not
contain them. The insects stopped their
After some time alone she must
have found one of the cups
with olive leaf and hammer shard
and learned its art:
However she might turn amazed
in gyral darkness,
in frenzy pandemoniac, bereft,
it trued her dismal
course and pointed her the other way.
As she emerged, I found a painter’s tarp
to wrap her body in.
She was from head to foot enameled
in cattle blood.
She had torn her tea-scent hair in sheaves
and plastered it
with gore along the cavern walls. I gave
her water from a skin.
She tightly held the little cup and went
its unremitting way,
the leaf and shard recoiling by degrees
and pointing her
through Knossos to the Cyclades.