by Galina Krasskova
My lover once told me of a man,
who was snapped up
by the mad God’s fire.
He ran across mountains
leaping amongst angels,
feverish with the fire
that consumed him,
feverish with the grace
that spat him back to earth again
He was the first to be kissed,
to lose himself in the blessings
of the twice-born, two horned
born of the thigh of Zeus,
and Semele’s lightening-struck womb.
He was the first
to be taken up,
caught in a net
of ivy-thronged sweetness.
It was unspeakable
and yet His God
bestowed upon Him
the gift of speaking true,
of bearing sacred incantation
via the gateway
of tongue and lips —
steeped far too long
in His inhuman grammar.
I see him in my dreams sometimes,
bare feet like cracked leather,
bones and shells woven in his dreads,
disheveled, wild eyed, joyous:
a thousand years it seemed
he was swallowed up
learning his mad God’s songs.
Is anyone ever prepared
for such dissolution?
Salve et coagula.
these words belong to another God,
but I believe Dionysos owned them first.
his prophet, with skin like polished onyx,
eyes glowing with dark, crimson-hued flame,
spat them out upon his unsuspecting world.
He became a mask
through which Dionysus
He became the garb
of a mad God dancing.
It makes me wonder
what was left
of the first one taken up
by Odin’s power,
the first who swallowed
of that ancient storm wind,
who bore that awful Hunger forth,
who fell into that ravening maw.
I wonder at the first of my lineage,
who lost themselves on the ancient Tree
and found themselves
on the paths of Power,
I have heard the whispered vestiges
of that one’s screaming
as the Tree plucked flesh and spirit
in its feeding.
We make such sacrifices for our Gods
but oh the magnificence we create,
as we tightwalk across that abyss.
There is such beauty in our dying,
the whole universe sings.
To Melampos the son of Amythaon
Melampos the son of Amythaon
was born to a life of luxury,
scion of an ancient royal house.
And had he remained in his native land,
to history he would have been completely lost
just as the mass of men are,
sheaves of wheat harvested in a single day.
But once upon a fateful time he wandered his territory,
and surveying his lawful inheritance
he spied his servants huddled about a gnarly old oak tree.
He came to see what they were up to
and gasped at the sight of the scythe stained with serpent’s blood
and the nest of fragile eggs they were wont to crush beneath their heels
like plump grapes that make the wine we pour out in libation to the gods.
He screamed for them to stop,
bellowing like some mighty bull or elder giant
and the strong fieldhands trembled as children before the wrath of their regal master.
So it was that this kind-hearted prince
was able to save two among the brood of the unjustly slain viper.
He reared them with care and the warmth of his body,
and never let his dear hatchlings out of his sight.
Then one night to reward his kindness,
while he slept the twin serpents crept up to his ears
and licked them clean so that he could hear what no man before him had
since the days when mortalkind and the gods ceased to dine together
– from that moment forth he could understand the language of the animals.
All of them, from the wile-weaving spiders that hang in doorways,
to the vixen in her burrow with coat the color of flame,
to the crows that congregate around gallows trees
– all of their speech was clear to him as the sun
when the clouds suddenly part before its majesty.
You would think that this would be a heaven-sent boon,
a gift worthy of fatted hecatombs slaughtered on the altar
– but it was not. He felt as if he had been cursed.
The man never got a moment’s peace,
for the whole world is crawling with life in constant conversation with itself.
And he understood every word.
There was no shutting out the voices;
they never stopped, his mind was never quiet.
It was torture greater even than what Lykourgos, deluded by the vine, suffered.
Goaded on by madness, like an ox driven to frenzy by the sting of a gadfly,
he wandered over the world, a restless, witless stranger far, far from home.
Eventually the exile came to the shores of the Nile, ruled over by good king Epaphos
who caused the worship of the Gods to flourish.
Many priests populated the land at that time,
men wise in the ways of their ancestors.
They served in the temples in rotating tribes
and during the off season many made a living as itinerant magicians,
healers of Sekhmet, prophets and holy men in the blessed solitude of the desert.
It was to such a one that the mad prince came, a man with fiery eyes
and a voice like a drum used to reach the other side,
features like stone weathered by the winds and skin of darkest mahogany.
His hair was knotted braids that swayed as spider thighs sway,
his teeth gleamed like the moon
and he wore the pelt of a spotted beast over his pure linen robe.
He carried a staff twined with streamers of curling ivy
which he used to support his frail body,
clutching the shaft in his knobby fist, the staff of his holy office
topped by a pinecone to symbolize the virilis of the God he served.
This man knew all the mystic rites of the daimones,
the initiations that bring order to a fragmented soul
and purification to a weary body.
He made the mad one sit on a tripod in a hut of leaves
and sang enchantments to him while wafts of sacrificial smoke rose up
until he seemed to be enthroned in the underworld
in the shade of the white cypress by the streams of memory and forgetfulness.
Then the priest daubed his face with white clay
and gave him a mirror to gaze into
so that he would become enraptured by his reflection.
Then the old man danced a bestial dance round him,
winding like the passageways of the labyrinth wind,
like the procession of the months through the year,
howling threnodies like one of the shaggy-legged creatures
that haunt the wastes at night
when the wind shrieks and the owl cries doom.
Then the prince was thunderstruck
and fell like a kid into a bath of milk.
When he awoke he was sane
and knew how to control the voices he heard around him all the time.
In the days that followed
the old man also taught him the art of the spirits,
the secret rites of the fertile God of the Mountain,
the Lord of the Double Horns who abides with the heroes in the West,
the bed of the midnight sun.
When his instruction was done
Melampos put on the fringed fawnskin mantle,
the high-heeled hunting boots,
the phallic talisman,
the ivied staff and the wine-skin of miracles
– all once belonging to his master and now his holy charge and property.
He set his feet in the direction of his native soil
to teach the Greeks the mysteries of the Stranger God.