Pythia 5: Founder
(Homage to Pindar; Prayer to Battus)
by Gord Sellar
come away, unclean lovers of pure things, while we have time:
soil-bright glistening to rotten feet; I can’t breathe without
you. ocean depths, murk filled with fat
luminous stars, burning salt-fire, frigid grey breath.
glory is thirst. sleep eternal, mouldering god
braided into the middle root of (y)our city
it was pulsating, sighing flesh(earth)
that drew us here, naked of fathers, alone; one eagle feather.
above him twine lust, curved melons, voices(arrows)
music, entwined all and pressing like sex
droplets of light borne in bone-dark jars
to awaken the new-kissed soil
— Saskatoon, 1997
This poem was published while I was living in Saskatoon, in a chapbook titled Odin Swings (1997).
In a course, much later, I was urged to rework this material into a more narrative vein, and this was what I came up with:
An Ocean, History
Murk, frigid, full of voices and salt-flames:
Men in rows, barren, and naked of fathers,
Cross darkness, history, rowing fleshbone frames.
Eagle songs, and ocean smoke; who bothers
To recall? But carrying such bone-dark, naked ghosts
Wrapped in sacred bundles between frigid bones.
And through our minds’ wide paving stones, dark hosts
Sing down to him who in ice-bright soil moans;
The founder, whose buried voice crawls from no throat
To now and to us drowned in filth. And for his folk
Libya was far as Andromeda. Set out,
Cleanse now, wash in strange waters, thus he spoke.
But otherwise engaged, our ships unbuilt;
our civilization nestling into the silt.
— Montreal, 1999
Still later, I produced this:
Always, for us, is a bounded time—a hundred
thousand years is the length of our always.
And always, we’ve felt it pushing beneath the surface
of the mind, deep in the underworld of instinct.
the wavering world, horizon stippled with watery light
beneath the surface burns the fiery salt, the voices and
memories of history itself, frigid and barren: the igneous
ocean is distilled and solidified into a passage-way.
It feels sometimes as if the oceans were emptied out.
and the men set out, murk beneath them, their voices
carrying sacred songs of history: stories of a single feather
and bearing the world in bone-dark jars; blood wrapping
hoary bundles of truth, hidden among bones and hungers.
rowing fleshbone frames, were these the boys who feared
the night? who fled to mothers and nurses when sun slept?
these men, long ago lost in the trudge of always, demigods
they were not. they shuddered on seeing the gloom beneath.
Imagine being lost, tethered by knowledge
alone to the infinity of stars in their shifting places;
lost in the world with only the secret language
of sky, voiced quiet when the others sleep.
Imagine navigating the world by skylit darknesses;
then imagine your world left far behind.
carrying strange ghosts, naked and rapacious spirits starved
for blood, for promises and betrayals. the seas were filled with
the eyes of the dead; diverting roads across the dark water,
they steered the course of the world as fully as the stars above.
minds in those days were paved with wide heavy stones,
and beneath, churning, bound in glittering ice-bright soil,
a voice crept up from a corpse, cracking the foundation
because the founder, the father of the city, feared loss.
Death, we acknowledge, will create such hunger.
how far was it to Libya, or home? months, perhaps years
if fate, as it often lusts to, betrayed them. yet they
set out. they knew that the only atonement to death is
searching for anything. and they, at least, dared to set out.
What we must learn is that a petty utopia
is no more than a diaspora from history:
no matter what we do, we cannot drive
the yearning from us; always, that urge to be lost.
— Montreal, 1999
Somehow, I still prefer the first version, however.
February 2, 2012