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The Gifts of AphroditeTony Harrison
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Vol. 23 No. 1 · 4 January 2001
Poem

The Gifts of Aphrodite

Tony Harrison

272 words

These figs missed the picker
moved to pluck tokens
of love or welcome to strangers,
missed bird, missed casual snacker,
so are burst and outspread
as red as hibiscus,
scuffed pistil opera plush,
carmine mite-view velveteen
the pile of posh bathrobes.
The carob pods clatter,
as the woman rattles
her long pole in the tree,
down through the branches
to the roadside ditch
from which she picks a handful
as we pass her: Take, sweet

as honey. Eat! Eat!
All Eve’s kin and as kind
with their sweet temptations
nuts, ripe figs, pears,
a fragrant herb to smell,
thyme, basil, oregano . . .
a red pomegranate flower
a sprig of white jasmine.
Then as we walked, hot and thirsty,
a groaning green truck
laden with leafy oranges
driven by a black-clad priest
drove past us. ‘Catch!’ he cried.
The flung rogue orange
rolled down the dusty hill
till stopped by a wicket
of three roadside asphodels
that went on gently vibrating
the chord of thankful receivers.
I held the fruit high
in greeting and gratitude
at the retreating truck,
a sunburst reflected
then eclipsed in the cassock.
At the Baths of Aphrodite
where bathing’s forbidden
a first fig-leaf falls
yellowing into the pool
with shed off-white dove fluff
startling the basking eel
suppler than asphodels
into two brief shudders.
From an I to an S
and back, twice:
IS it spells IS
the be all and end all
settling to a still I.
At dawn we swim the sun up
over blue/purple mountains
as the swordfish flotilla
heads back to harbour and docks,
tonight’s feast aboard
in fresh bloody slices.

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