Sparks soar from hilltop fires,
Vulture women swoop high in night air,
Clutching skulls in talons,
While in woods under lunar light
Sows poke and prod the acorn mast
Fattening, and the night bird calls.
Antinous–god, hero, ancestral spirit, gay, bisexual–many are the takes on him. I won’t offer a position as I think he is as fluid as the Nile, but here is a poem I wrote a few years ago and appropriate for this time of commemoration of his death and renewal.
If you are not familiar with him, he was the emperor Hadrian of Rome’s beloved. A veritable encyclopedia about him can be found at Aedicula Antinoi. Marguerite Yourcenar, the French lesbian writer, wrote an amazing and beautiful novel Memoirs of Hadrian that portrays their relationship.
The sun, fallen in the west, stains
The desert with blood, the wind
Wheezes through red rock canyons,
And in the oasis petals fall on still pools—
Petals dyed red with an alchemy of
Lion’s blood spilt in the Black Land,
And of the amor of an emperor and his
Boyfriend, whose wine-ripe body slipped
Beneath the waters of the Nile. For you Antinous,
I weave a garland. There are so many flowers,
So many transfigured youths: Cyparissus, Hylas, Adonis, Hyacinthus…
But these are the reddest (no pale blooms of Hades here!)
Fierce with the vigor of Bythynia’s
Pine-shaded torrents and the lupine paths of Arcadia.
Out of the turbulence of the emperor’s grief
(far to the south soft pink clouds of locusts mass)
You have made Your way through the Western Lands,
Borne on the lilt of soft chants: “O boat of millions of years!”
While tears fall into the silted waters of Africa,
From whence the lotus rises again in immortal hues of sunrise.
From my late summer echtra*:
The river flows, its waters clear; pools deepen on the other side. Are there salmon there, I wonder. Not long ago the river spirits took a young man, a visitor from another country on the other side of the sea. It is hot, and the sun shines fiercely on the river rocks; there is much dust. People drive their pickups and SUVs down onto the beach here, it seems more than in the past. The river keeps moving, quickly, I put my hand in the water—it is cold. It would be refreshing to swim, but I will not. The river has gifted me with inspiration in the past: I make a small offering as a token of gratitude. Somewhere the fish are swimming. There has been neglect in the campground above, a shot out window in the office; the backcountry has been aggrieved by the drug wars. There are old legacies, poverty on the reservation, even if the Forest Service has returned the land. This place holds many secrets, many caches in its dark forest, under its lichen-splattered rocks… A stand of mullein grows on the white rocks of the river strand, heads lifted high. I walk back up the rocky road to my car, pausing by the oak with its golden mistletoe.
The river will keep flowing. I hope the fish will keep coming, I pray so. Eat the fish, place the bones back in the river with a prayer; let them return to the house of the salmon where they sit around their own fires. They may be in human form. Can you see them? catch a glimpse? Or hear their songs?
Somewhere beyond the mists, somewhere deep in the ocean, they weep in their houses, fewer and fewer come back, fewer and fewer come back. Don’t forget they are persons too, persons who hold wisdom in both Celtic and Native American traditions.
An echtra in Gaelic tradition is a tale of an adventure; in modern context, a spiritual journey/ adventure.
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