Scylla

Michael Hofmann

after Metamorphoses, Book VIII

I knew about Helen, they kept selling me Helen,
but I never even got to be stolen in the first place.
Sieges are boring – did you know. Everything’s fine,
just each day’s a little bit worse than the last.

And you start thinking how long it is since you saw
prawns or a nice pair of earrings or a magazine.
I had my townhouse, but I practically lived on the battlements,
they even let me use the telescope during the lulls.

Then one day I saw him. That changed everything.
Oiled limbs, greaves (can you imagine), his little skirt,
roaring and rampaging about, the bellowed (yes, taurean) commands.
By Jupiter out of Europa, apparently. I thought: gimme!

A big girl wants a man like that, not the little weasels
scurrying around defending me. (Did I ask to be defended?)
I started cheering him on as he skewered our guys.
I wondered if he could see me and what he thought.

Was he stuffing a goat, hitting the 3 star, or letters home.
Minos, Minos King of Crete. I tried on a Cretan accent,
did that all the hair up all the hair down thing they do there.
I thought of the word Argive – or were we the Argives?

Perhaps if we lost – and how could we fail to lose,
how could anyone hold out against him, he’s so irresistible –
then I’d get to be his wife or his sex slave or something.
Who cares, frankly. Isn’t that what happens. After a war?

That’s when I started thinking about trying to help things along.
Not pushing ‘our boys’ over the edge, or distracting them from the job in hand
by giving them blow jobs as they manned the walls (man something else),
something more ruthless, I suppose, and more wholesale.

I wrote to Minos, signed ‘a fan’, to meet me at the gate.
It wasn’t easy, believe me. At night I spiked their drinks.
I went into Daddy’s bedroom with the garden shears
and cut off his purple scalplock. The creepy thing went and bled on me.

There. I shouldn’t have told you. Anyway, I popped it in a bag
and ran to the Maidens’ Gate. He wasn’t there of course.
So I had to pick my way through his dreaming army
with it in my hands, by now it was hissing softly.

He was up, of course (so conscientious!),
in something skimpy, bustling about his tent,
wet jockstraps hanging up to dry. (What I’d give!)
The funny thing is he didn’t seem pleased to see me, I looked.

I said: This is the purple hair of Nisus.
The siege is over. Invest the town. (Invest me!)
He got all huffy, gave me stuff about war and men and honour,
said something so underhand had no place in the annals, etc,

and no way was I ever going to Crete at his side.
I said did he like war so much, he didn’t want it to end.
The next day his flag was flying over Megara
and they were loading the ships.

He dictated peace terms. My father abdicated.
I stumbled about the campsite, thinking what I’d done,
what there was for me to do. I couldn’t go back,
and which of the other towns on the strip would have me –

like giving houseroom to the Trojan horse,
the Trojan bicycle more like. It was Crete or nothing.
He stood by the mast, arms crossed, for all the world like Ulysses.
I said: Fuck you Minos, your wife does it with bulls!

Then I saw my father coming for me, he was an osprey,
he was rejuvenated, I gave a little mew of terror,
and found myself flying too, criss-crossing the sea,
Scylla the scissor-legged, now the shearer.