For Ellen Miller, Found Strangled
Born in a swan's egg, Helen
uncurled her small body
wet as naked Venus on the curving shell
ankles in sea foam.
Men traced both their scents
toward the sacrifice of Iphigenia
and the slaughter of Polyxena.
But those men remembered only
salt wind tearing the snails,
shores littered with broken shells.
Those who walked here last summer
remember swans taking bread from startled fingers
or swan boats weighted with children
paddling between crowded banks.
But no one saw beauty walking with death
among the rhododendrons.
How he encircled his fingers around her wrist
and said, So small.
How they left the Public Garden.
How he took her home.
The whistling swan flies beneath
a shroud of fog at September's close.
Alone, bereft of her flock's
wild clustered call
she journeys to warmer weather
which seems always somewhere beneath
the rim of earth
or behind memory's horizon.
The wind tightens against
the beating bay of her throat.
They were cut loose so easily
as if the slightest wind
undid their stems,
their voices silent
through the black blood of a thousand lambs
spill into the soil of Erebus.
Yet we remain
locked in our skulls,
curling and uncurling fingers around
toothbrushes, pencils, forks.
The next wind will come
or decades from now
when the spruce, barely two feet,
dwarfs the barn.
And what of you,
my own Ulysses,
who fought no one to reach my bed
of antique brass, not olive trunk?
Who now sleeps
the breath of your life
a sigh in the hallway.
We are ghosts in this strange house
light transcending our skin of air,
as palpable as night's sheath,
as conscious as marble,
as sonorous as dirt.