Palimpsest

A beautiful boy, drowned in a pool.

That’s the story, anyway: mouth green with cress he drowned, a sailor boy dead in fresh water. His great-thewed lover turned the island out for a month of searching, dawn to dusk, and then left; even love only lasts so long.

The island remembers.

Spring is ending and they run the hills, the trails, the dirt paths, crying a dead name in honor of a dead love. Forced, they say; by tradition if nothing else. Oh, well. In the evening they eat cress, drink new wine.

White driftwood on rocky beaches.

A fisher, caught in his nets, frozen in place; helpful hands descending. That’s the story, anyway. Slipped off the docks, a bad fall stopped just short of the water, arms and legs above the tide line, dark with the sun.

Train tracks.

They drink too much, joylessly, stubbornly, in cars parked outside of town. Plausible deniability, a stupid accident walking home, some high school nonsense. Red rocks and iron and parents who are careful to not search their rooms.

Woodsmoke and gulls.

You circle back to these stories, to these moments, like sea birds over a school of fish. Each time, one spiral higher, one circle wider, and then—

Springs of Pegae

He holds his breath and dives deep. Deep, and deeper yet; the bottom is meters away, and the light is fading. His lungs claw at his throat, bang heavy against his lips, bubble deep in his brain, but deeper yet.

He reaches bottom, settles uneasily in the murk, and winds weeds around his traitor limbs to quell their insurgent buoyancy. His lungs are in revolt, rioting in the streets; he tears up the cobblestones for barricades, lights fires in all the churches and libraries: there will be nothing left but ash for the revolutionaries.

Deeper still, and the light has gone — he watches stars wheel across the darkness in stubborn pain — and she is there.

“Hylas,” she says, her voice the voice of a woman he knew in childhood. “Where have you been?” He takes breath to reply to her, and settles to the bottom of the pool, unquestioned king at last.

Mysia

The white arms of the nymph are around him, dragging him unresisting down among the green weed, while above he sees his beloved Hercules raise a shaggy, grieving head, and bay, “Hylas!”

He turns, and there among the mudded kingdom are her seagreen lips, her numinous eyes, the inhuman teeth that flash even in the murky twilight of the nymph’s bower. His lips form a word that drifts in bubbles unsounded to the surface of the pond where Hercules squats mad; she shakes her head — his delight! — and whispers his name against his ear, “Hylas…”

The Argo has sailed to death and glory and poisoned betrayal, but Hercules runs naked through the fields and briars of the island, terrorizing huddled shepherdesses, howling at the moon and wrenching at the trees in his desolation, while beneath the cold, cold water he lies curled against her unwarming bosom, mouth opening and closing peacefully as she breathes. He nuzzles the green softness of her breasts, strokes gently her ticklish fish belly: Hercules bullies the pacific islanders into his search, so the low rolling hills echo with his name, “Hylas–!”

He never grows old, never dies, and never returns to the sunlight fields above, where still with the coming of the spring the islanders beat the fields and cry his name, “Hylas!”