Back to Issue Nineteen.

danaid

BY VANESSA STAUFFER

 

At the hour the streetlamps come on, we turn
translucent. The music, for a moment, silent.
We drink whiskey on the porch & you speak

from a distance, language dissolving the years
between us. After your mother died, you tell me,
you met your first lover at a party. I imagine you,

seventeen, your teeth stained red with wine.
Neighbors circle the dead-end in pairs, peering past
the long shadows of pine. They fade from sight

as the bottle empties. And carefully, the way we sound
a stream's slick rocks, you ask me to loosen
your neck's tense cords. Perhaps, by lamplight,

in a room an ocean away, your wife
waits for your call. The Danaids were ordered
twice: first by Aegyptos to marry his sons,

then by Danaus, their own father, to murder the men
on their wedding night. Not even their revenge
was their own, though they were punished

for the crime. It's how Rodin imagines
his solitary sister, trying to fill a broken jar, her posture
a child's bottomless sleep. Half-formed, she rises

from marble the texture of split rock: heap of salt,
new snow or sand, grainy & opaque, something
soft, pliable as love, or the lack of it—

which is also love, as a cracked jar
brims full for an instant before
the level drops. Her knees drawn to her chest,

her body holds a hollow. You reach for my hands,
press your mouth against each palm. What is it
you whisper from deep in your throat, whiskey slur

half-laughed, chin lifted so your head
rests against my chest? You said when she left
you were betrayed. I don't know which woman

Rodin intends, or if the sons were given
a choice. They were already lovers when Claudel,
the sculptor's protege, bared her back's still current

to unburden his mind of the image: another woman
gone. I should have asked you then, as I asked of you
everything, what you meant. I am giving you

my hand. The doorways gape black sockets
down the upstairs hall. One light at the end.
On the other side of the world, the sea calls back

the sun. Your children play with their cousins,
not knowing where you are. The men
drain the wine from their goblets. The women

wait in the dark, each gripping a knife.

 

 

Vanessa Stauffer is a 2016 recipient of a Writers' Works in Progress grant from the Ontario Arts Council. Her poems have recently appeared in American Literary ReviewCincinnati Review, and West Branch. She's also the author of a chapbook, Cosmology (dancing girl press & studio, 2013).

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