ORESTEIA


(New version, Shakespeare Theatre, Washington DC 2019)

 

It was the knife.

It always was the knife.

Gleaming, magnetic,

passed from eager to unwilling hand

through generations drawn to grasp

its ivory haft, despite all.


Comes the proud king

(not counting that sire who served

his brother’s sons up in a stew)

fearful his great command will fail

for lack of wind through deck-paced days

who slits his daughter’s throat

 

so fleets may make for Troy

the queen who held that child

her life, biding slow sinuous time

to his return, that bath, the strike:

not from faithlessness but faith

in dark red recompense

 

the son who wandered far

yet still came slouching home

to cut her down -- harried by Furies

shrieking expiate!  redress!

beating his fists against scorched ground.

There seems no pause

 

to murderous amends

that sluice on till the last soul standing

ends itself.  But then

a timid Chorus creeps downstage –

housemaids and tradesmen

not thrice-cursed by sovereignty –

 

uncertainly debating

how guilt ends; who, terrified, stood by:

recalibrates those awful scales

from weir-debt towards a glimmer

of communal peace.  We bear

the blade these days

 

though wounds pulse

metaphorically:  consigned to ask

who may transform those Furies now

or only blood will satisfy

or what new Chorus will appear

as we cascade through clan feuds

 

that acidify.



First published in What Rough Beast, December 26, 2019