from The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace
About the Writer
T.A. Noonan is the author of several books and chapbooks. Her latest releases are The Midway Iterations (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015) and The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace (Noctuary Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in Reunion: The Dallas Review, Menacing Hedge, LIT, West Wind Review, Ninth Letter, Phoebe, and others. A weightlifter, artist, teacher, priestess, and known by many as an all-around woman of action, she is an artist-in-residence at Firefly Farms, home of the Sundress Academy for the Arts, and serves as the Vice President/Associate Editor of Sundress Publications.
You will go between swift ships, tall ships, my friend—a blackbird on the battlements, ready to risk your life for Caesar’s. Maecenas, what about us? Our lot is joy, but only if you survive. Without you, bitterness. That’s the life of victims. Our leisure is in your living, not in your orders to relax. Alone, we must labor to endure, avoid being such soft husbands. We will bear it, and you, through hostile Alps and ice-shining lands to the distant West. We will follow to the last step with strong hearts. You may ask:
“What’s the help of a timekeeper, a tiny pacifist, worth?”
Well, I’ll be less afraid for you, Son of Kings, as you fulfill your higher mission. Absence is the birth of terror. The bald chick fears the snake’s glide without his mother; her presence comforts, promises the gliding away, even if it cannot fulfill. I accept this, as all soldiers who gladly war do, and pray for your grace. Not for bloody oxen fastened to the plow, not for cattle that migrate when the hot stars cool, not for a white villa whose walls reach sorcerous heights. You’ve enriched me enough with your kindness. I need no more and will neither hoard my fortunes in the ground nor squander them like a frivolous heir.
“But oh, whatever gods in heaven rule the land and humanity, why do you stare at my face? Am I some empty red ornament to gawk at? Am I that exciting? Please, if you’ve had or delivered a child, stop this. Why do you look at me like a stepmother and invoke steel monsters?”
The boy’s trembling mouth stops. Stripped of symbols to his remarkable, hairless body, he could have softened a cannibal’s heart. But not the Grey One’s. She ties vipers to her short, unkempt hair. Bids her coven to tear trees from lonely graves, sacred fig and cypress. To smear eggs with frog’s blood. To gather henbane, atropa, plumes of night owls, bones snatched from a hungry bitch’s mouth. To set it all ablaze in the hearth. One depraved sister, hair spiked as a sea urchin or some crazed she-boar, spreads infernal waters through the house, while another hoes the hard ground, groaning away. She digs a pit for the boy, buried to the throat, where the crones will set three banquets a day. Only he won’t reach them, just as a man drowning never reaches air. Hunger will fix in his eyes, suck at his liver, make his marrow an incomparable brew. There’s no lack of mannish lust in this place, among these women whose craft draws stars from the sky. And then Canidia, gnawing her toe with an uncut fang, spoke (or didn’t):
“Oh, Night and Diana, you are my constants, my silent kings, my rites keepers. Fly from this sacred place, and turn your anger to the houses of my enemies. As fearful beasts lurk, sweet with sleep, in the wild, let the market dogs bark and the people laugh the old swinger sick. He’s orchard-smeared, anointed with the perfect fruit of my labor. What happened? Why are my poisons worth less than that witch Medea’s? She avenged herself, gave Jason’s mistress—a king’s daughter!—that venom-soaked dress, fled as the bride burned. No herb or root is hidden from me, yet he sleeps in greasy beds and forgets me, his mistress? Ah, I bet some other clever witch’s song frees him. But soon that wailing knock-kneed man shall stumble back to me. By my potion, no mere snake charmer’s spell, another woman won’t cross his mind. He may pour a cup before the stars, stretch their light across the earth and below the sea, but his love will glow like fire-bright pitch.”
With this, the boy (a child no more) breaks his silence, not with soft words but bloody curses:
“Your poisons, witch, are neither right nor human. You deal in dread; no oath will atone for your wrongs. I’ll haunt you with all the force of the underworld. Like madness given talons, I’ll claw your dreams and shatter your ribs. May crowds in the street crush you and your crones, throwing rocks from all sides. May wolves and carrion crows drag your bodies away, rip your limbs, scatter them among the graves of thieves. And may my parents, who will outlive me, watch the show unfold and grin.”
Why bother innocent guests like a lazy pup against the wolves, [ ]? Come to me, empty-handed if you dare, and turn your threats. Have you no remorse? I am pure Spartan dog to your yellow mongrel, running past shepherds, past forest, past scent of food, to strike you in the grove at the great altar of snow. Careful now. I’m rough and ready to grab evil by the horns. We poets can drive men to suicide with our verse. Recall the oath-breaking father and the lyricist who skewered him, the sculptor who shaped the ugly satirist too true. Do you think me a crying boy who can’t escape your black tooth?