The Four Elements

I. Pasiphaë

Wife: word and vow. Invisible. Bound—
as heat is to flame. No god did this,
no pretty, facile cow. A kingdom
of men, blinded. And me—burning
to be seen. Burning for him. I chose,
did not haggle over price. At last,
in the ashes, after, you see me.

I made sure his whores spewed only
monsters. And I am one of them.

II. Daedalus

Falling, all my life. Not clever enough
not to come between a king, his wife.
No map for how to live past this.
I dismantled sleep, built wings, became
the air, took what I loved—rescued him.
But not to keep.

III. The Minotaur

I was a monster. I knew. At home
in the stone prison, innocent, amazed,
I simply was. But then they came—
fair and afraid. I looked, held them in
my gaze, saw it in their eyes: the other.
A monster. Me. Devoured what they had taught:
beauty. Became its absence. Lay down
in welcoming mud, offered up
my misborn head. Took the blows. Was glad.

IV. Icarus

Pick up that shell. Hold it to your ear.
It is not the sea that sings inside,
not beating waves you hear. It is me—
rinsed of ash, earth, and air; no architect,
ant, or string as guide—lost. And drowning.

I carried them all, tried to set them free.
Burned her away in the sun, wore cloud,
escaped the walls, was lovely for them,
but fell for me.

–Leslie Harrison

Leslie’s new book, Displacement, has been one of my bedstand stalwarts for several weeks now. This piece, featured on Poetry Daily, is the flagship that begins her collection. The rest of the poems are arranged under chapter headings for each of these four mythic characters/archetypes. Some of the lines cut right through all my protective membranes—like this: “Burned her away in the sun, wore cloud,/escaped the walls, was lovely for them,/but fell for me.”