HOLLOW HEARTS

Susan A. Katz

I

Apollo

you were light so pure it blinded

as it bled from heaven and made whole

the harvest     made safe the flocks

made of wind   music   and of the breeze

song     the earth blessed you   the goddesses cried

out their joy at one so fair    bathed you

in sweet water   clear and pure    wrapped

you in white veils and golden girdles thin

and limpid as the air

the gods beheld in you a promise that they

nurtured not on mother’s milk but on the heady

brew of nectar and ambrosia    it raced

like fire through your veins    pulsed

within your infant form expanding flesh

and muscle into grace

and brawn and you rose up a man

beauty carved in delicate detail

the contours of your face

strength within you

was a call to venture forth

with arrows on your back    descending

from Olympus    crossing miles of endless

miles   arriving at the Valley of Crissa

there the nymph Telphousa bent

on treachery sent you to the savage gorge

of Pernassus where the serpent

Python made his lair

the air fare shook with his indignant rage

his bellows moved the ground

beneath your feet    his breath

was poison flame that scorched

your skin forging your courage

into steel      you urged your arrow fly

the serpent writhed

and twisted in its agony and sought

the forest for a place to die

in your victory so casually won there was

begun the seeds of self esteem

of glory girding youthful limbs    all

that youth and passion could conceive

within the reach of your

expanding grasp and then

your eyes beheld and fell    like rain

upon the painful beauty that was Daphne

II

Daphne

you were the child of water     brought forth

like wind swept foam into

the day    daughter of Peneius

soft and fair     desire

was      for you     the breeze that stroked

the trees     summer rain that fed

the waters of your birth until they spilled

beyond their banks and nursed

to green the pillows of the earth

nymph of forest and of glade

you roamed at will and kissed

the faceless lips of wind    begged

your father for the gift

of carefree days    to let you live your life

within the image of Diana    woman

who need never know

the touch of man

yet your face and form spoke

promises that wishes had no power

to unsay     your father granted license

from of the terms of marriage

and of men      knowing that

the blend of spirit and of beauty

that you set no store by     would undo

you in the end     and as you flew

across the meadow like a shaft

of light       in love with everything

in nature     unshackled   unrestrained    Apollo

spied you and his gaze fell

on you with the weight

of chains

                  

III

Daphne & Apollo

their gazes locked     like warriors

upon a battlefield of wills     both

struck by Cupid’s malice

Apollo      bore a gold-tipped point

within his breast     exciting love and Daphne

felt the leaden spike

strike true turning her soul

to dread

Apollo loved her     longed to touch her

hold her    teach her all

that was encompassed in the word

delight   he called to her   bestowed

on her a smile that clearly

was the source of sun and kept at bay

the shadows

of the night and having everything he’d

ever cherished fall like ripened

fruit into his grasp    waited for her blush

to fade    her eyes to answer  “Yes!”

Daphne felt      like fangs    his eyes

consume her flesh and fled    her hair

streaming out behind her (Apollo longed

to lose himself within its scent) her limbs

were bare and white (stirring within

the painful seeds of need) her eyes

were bright with fear   her voice

a melody of dread    she raced

the wind and won and still

Apollo’s passion spurred him on

“Stay,” he begged her, Stay, for I am not

your foe.  Do not flee from me as a lamb

flees from the wolf, or a dove the hawk. 

It is for love that I pursue you.”

but the fright in Daphne’s

breast would not be stilled and on

she raced     growing more lovely

in his sight     this god who slew the

serpent     who sung the flowers

from the soil grew fierce

impatient and increased his speed

until she felt his breath like flame

upon her hair and called her father’s

name “Help me!  Open the earth

to enclose me or change this form

which has brought me

to despair.”

her words were scarcely firm

upon the wind      when a stiffness gripped

her limbs     her flesh coarsened to bark

her hair blossomed

into leaves     Apollo’s fingers traced

the trunk and felt the wood-flesh tremble

at his soft caress and in fair Daphne’s

place     rooted and bowed    a laurel tree stood

he who wished the stars

into the heavens could not

have dreamed such vacant silence

or known that innocent skin could turn

sullen as stone     nor fathom how the soul

of one so free would seek

its nourishment in soil running

deeper than the shallow sunless grip

of grave    beneath the body

he had longed to touch the blood

had thickened into sap    limbs that had

danced before his eyes in flurries

of cream and ivory raised brittle fingers

to the sky and all the truth

he’d ever dared believe

became the substance of a lie

IV

Epilogue

the heart is hollow     yet can

not be filled by force

or by desire         desire has no form

but is the all-consuming arrogance

of flame     your heart Apollo

victim of itself learned

that there are gifts not even gods

by fierce passions driven

can wrest by force     they must

be freely given

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