Power Of Myth
I am Medea or am I?
Direct descendant of the sun
predominantly divine but only as long
as I had Jason’s love. I am all mortal.
yet do I die or do I ascend?
A ritornello of slain children’s voices.
Did I give the hero an unguent
to protect against flames,
then burn him with my jealousy?
Did I warn him an army
would rise from his sowing
yet fall for his farmer’s hands?
Did I put the dragon of doubt to sleep
so drugged by love,
I sailed away with Jason,
scattered bits of my brother’s body
to turn my father’s head?
A ritornello of slain children’s voices
cry down centuries.
Had my brother, the monster,
long begged me for death?
Did Jason filch his fleece
only because of golden me?
Was I both helper maiden and fool?
They said I had prophecy
so I knew what you’d make of me.
A ritornello of slain children’s voices
screeching cellos overplay an act
that may, or may not, have been me.
I am Medea or am I nothing more
than Jason’s shadow
squid-inked by men’s fear?
that she reserved for important life advice:
'If you haven't achieved anything
by eleven o'clock, the day is wasted.'
But this is a myth. There are days, it is true,
when I taste bitter freeze dried coffee
and wish only for the infinite potential
of tomorrow, the new sun through the crack
in the curtains. There are days I squander
the hour before the bars open their doors,
knowing the only decision I need make
is whether to leave at five; I know every person
in the room by name. There are days I sit
in the park, observe the fragile, slender
stems of poppies swaying in the wind, petals
unfurling in slow motion. John Cage said:
'If something is boring after two minutes,
try it for four,' and I do. There are days I wander
the streets of this city, you know you have to look
up to see the real beauty of the buildings. I imagine
I am running over the rooftops high above,
leaping from balcony to balcony, looking for you.
The superstitions of our grandmothers have a weight. Ancient myths and old wives’ tales are often told to us, stitched together and warped from so many retellings; we all know the bad luck of the black cat as we toss salt over our shoulders.
But do you know about the birds?
Birds know things: they warn us of the approaching thunderstorm and take to the air before the ground begins to quake; we should listen for the canary’s song, for when it is silenced we must run. And, most importantly, we must remember that if a bird flies into your home then Death will soon ride out to greet you.
Early-warning systems, that’s what birds are. They are scientists and almanacs and psychics and if you know how to listen they always sound the distress signal. I’ve been a good listener, but the birds around me are not to be trusted. They are liars, all. Many birds have flown in through my window and battered themselves around in the corners of my apartment, their pupils blown wide with mania, before I was able to usher them back out into the sky. Death has not yet come for me. The frantic flapping and tattered feathers littering my carpet are false alarms.
No bird came to my grandmother before she died. All of my misinformed messengers had come to the wrong place when she had needed them, and so she left without warning. She must have been startled the night Death appeared, unannounced, in her doorway. And she must have thought him rude when he lead her out into the starry desert, hand-in-hand, but she was too stoic to make a fuss. She went quietly, and I like to pretend she walked with her head raised, eyes scanning the dark sky for owls.
After arrangements had been made and executed, after family had come and mourned and gone again, I sat on the floor in the front room of her empty house. My fingers trailed over the spiraled pattern of the rug that she had woven many years ago and I thought about how I would miss it.
A clack-clacking from the open doorway raised my head. A roadrunner stood on the threshold, head cocked and tail tilted downward to brush against the floor as it stepped inside, its proud crest deflated. It knew it was late, and had come to tell me it was sorry.
The bird and I had nothing to say to one another, but we sat together in silence as the sun lowered the desert into night. Then it gave another clack from its long beak and turned back the way it had come.
The birds have no sense of time; they’re always too early or too late. One day, perhaps, they will get it right. I keep my windows open and wait, hoping that they will remember me when it is my turn to go, if only so that I can pass on just one more tale to those who will miss me. I will gladly leave their scattered feathers in the corners of my room and sleep.