“Orpheus,” she cried, “what madness has destroyed my wretched self, and you?”
(Eurydice, The Georgics by Virgil)
Step carefully, friends. Follow close at my heels.
Trust me to hold back thorny stems that scratch shins,
lift low, eye-gouging branches, sidestep loose stones
and muddied holes threatening Dryad ankles.
Do be careful; use your hands if they help. Move
slowly over fallen trees, their twisted roots.
Let me show you what I’ve found in these dark woods.
Do you see these fired daylilies? Their velvet,
tangerine heads held up by long, strong necks? Note
the tiny, clenched fists of the mountain laurel,
the purple, swollen fingers of wild orchids,
water hopscotching rocks wherever the stream
bends. Hundreds of dollhouse ferns, electric green,
overgrow these paths, take back what men once claimed.
Up ahead, that man, my lover, will not wait,
will not stop to admire what I see. He won’t,
I’ve learned, turn back for me. He will study trail
maps, look for painted markers tacked to live oaks,
repeat his stories—the same lyre notes I’ve heard
again and again. Watch him greet every wild
dog, insist that it love him, lick him with all
three tongues. Slick with self-interest, my lover stomps
on large feet (progress of the unencumbered).
Knowing my fears, primordial, unyielding,
he warned snakes coil in shadowed, cool places. To
some this seemed a kindness. I once thought so, too.
Why don’t we linger here while he moves on? Soak
in the honest sun that shines on you, on me?
The god Hymen predicted failure. Friends, I
cannot say I wasn’t warned.