Melissa Dickson: Five Poems

Niobe, Medusa, and Cassiopeia Meet Weekly

for tea, for a nibble of Andromeda’s pound cake.
She starts it in a cold oven, lets the temperature
rise slowly over two hours. They agree it is the best
they’ve had. Of course, Medusa is decapitated
and can hardly taste a thing; Niobe is a weeping
stone, and Cassiopeia is eternally distracted
by the mirror hung over the café’s hearth.

To the other patron’s they look like three old ladies,
grandmothers in clean but delightfully outdated tweeds.
They like chamomile with cream and honey. They sit
for hours Tuesday afternoons.  Andromeda escorts
them home when the factory sirens blow. Between them
she is the only child, though she is old herself,
and Perseus little more than a winged memory.

**

Zeus in the Rose Garden

Remember the one about the rod
in the pond? Some bit above water, the rest
below, and the answer: what a buried stick
measures. You’ll need to account for what you
can’t see—make room for abstractions.

That old-man’s riddle crossed my mind
half-way home—after the golden rain,
before Hera’s rage. Could I end, she’d end
me, gladly.  Some men rid themselves
of wives as easily as tweezing a splinter.

I am pierced forever. The part
embedded and the part swelling out
as distinct as a stem from its thorn.

**

Andromeda and the Wedding

Naked and chained to a rock, who wouldn’t want me?
My mother wept, my father waved his flaccid sword.

A king, a queen, and a sea monster walk into a bar,
heard that one? I’m the punch line. Funny things

happen when you’re almost swallowed whole.
Nothing is ever the same. After that

marriage hardly seemed the end of the world.
There was a ceremony; I can’t recall

a thing. Mother picked my dress, wound my hair
to treacherous heights. Perseus wore blue.

I know this much from the pictures.
When I need to know more, I’ll ask.

**

Hermes Psychopompous:
The Triumph of Constantine

These days, when I hear the name Hermes,
I think of the scarf Andromeda bought
at that upscale consignment boutique
on Park and 82nd—hot air balloons soaring
over silken ecru. She keeps it tethered
to a strap of her purse. If anyone notices,
she nods, won’t admit it’s second hand.

My second husband loved to tell his tale
of visiting Constantine’s Hall. Seeing there
a frescoed likeness of Hermes, in shattered
marble, prone before the crucifix fixed
to his ancient pedestal. This is how
one messenger replaces another, the way
the soul finds its way by words not wings.

**

Medusa’s Dilemma

Would I were the cow,
the cloud, the girl chained
to the rock, a mule in Zeus’s stable.

Give me some say in anything—
who I love, who I kill,
how I wear my hair.

I can’t rest, can’t sleep,
with ten feet of bone and feather
anchored to my back.

I kneel like a camel, my head slung
forward trailing ribbons
of snake and spittle. I wake

with my cheek pressed to the ground,
the soft hay of dusk grown fierce
as blades, pricking my skin by  daybreak.

King Midas had to touch to maim.
I cannot take your will from you
any more then I can unsay my name.