The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Claire Keyes
ATALANTA OR THE AUDACITY OF SPEED
Consider Atalanta: she runs so fast
her own shadow gets lost in the dust.
No man can resist her beauty, her flashing feet.
When her suitors fall panting to the ground,
Atalanta races to the close. They die: the fate
they must foresee. Alone at the finish line, she wonders,
silly girl, if she will marry. But the oracle has decreed:
take a husband and say goodbye to the rush of wind
through your hair, the audacity of speed.
Venus, watching from her cushy bower, takes pity
on a fine young man, the great grand-son of Neptune.
It pleases the goddess to succor the love-lorn
Hippomenes. With three golden apples from her tree
and the goddess’s plan, he will win his Atalanta.
Clueless, the maiden has no gods on her side
only the power of her strong legs and supple feet.
But the apple he tosses in front of her gleams
and rolls more perfectly than other apples.
With a swoop of her arm, she retrieves it,
her suitor several paces behind. Does she suspect
no trick? Not even with the second apple?
She spurts further ahead, an apple in each hand,
the harsh pulse of his breath behind her. And he, devious
with love-tricks, throws the third a little further.
And she, having two, wants three, but so clumsy,
she doesn't have hands enough. He races ahead
and turns to claim his beloved, his bride.
Don’t expect a happy ending: the lovers mate
where they should not, flaunting their love-making
for the gods to see. A heart's beat, a shocked gasp
and the hair on their arms grows long and lustrous,
their teeth sharpen and they swish their tails, bulking up
into lions, flexed claws where fingers used to be.
They growl, not grasping the strange, vindictive powers
the gods possess. But relax. It's just a story.
Consider Atalanta, how fast she could run.
What a fool to be fond of winter.
February needs no friends, cold, contained,
yet providing this frozen pond, an offer
I can't resist. Feeling bold as the child
I was, I pull on socks and skates, take
some wobbly steps, then settle into a glide
across sleek winter ice, liking the stark
surround of winter trees, pine and birch sheathed
in snow and ice. Looking back,
I see boys in hot pursuit of a puck, their raised
sticks, their gambits unable to touch
me as I kick, glide, and head
for the pond's outer reaches
where I can spin or trace figure eights.
No one to witness the precise yet antic stitch
made by my legs and skates, my cuts
on the ice weaving over and around
marrying present to past
with a silver, sizzling sound.
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