Two Poems

Stephanie Burt

Hyperborea

after Pindar, Olympian 3

Once past the man-high teeth
and the disintegrating ice
that separate human lands
from the gods’ secret territory, what Herakles found
was nothing on first sight worth even half a breath
to the sort of fortune-tellers and singers who vaunt
celebrities’ pleasures, who promise new heroes the solace
of willing nymphets and smooth-shouldered boys,
then give them marble busts and sapphire crowns.
Behind the curtain of snow
lay temperate air and a firepit, and
what heroes, after labours, really want:
a couple of apple trees; a brook; warm shade where hardwoods stand;
a stump for a table; crisp weather; a place to sit down.

Chlorophyll

Rain at varying rates
Breaks up the queues at our bus stop; most people who know
They waited too long to buy umbrellas stand,
But some sit down on rocks,
While overhead, on long
Clouds sharpened like blades on skates,
We see pneumonia weather sliding in.

All nature seems to be at work
Reluctantly, as Friday’s anxious
Managers, both desultory and eager
To clear their stacked-up paper out of the way,
Go home. Do not start anything today.
Pay less attention to politics. Wrap it all up.
Consider the neighbour whose overstuffed

Three-storey house caught fire from inside,
Who saved cards, cheque stubs, apple wrappers, news,
Who would have gone up
In a fireball had the fire trucks arrived
Five minutes late: we saw him just
This morning, smiling
At us in his loose sweater, out on the kerb

Beside one of his indoor-outdoor cats.
Behind them, all unharmed, we saw his row
Of lilies, opalescent, deaf to us
And focused on their arduous life cycle
Of evapotranspiration:
They work all day, each day, with outstretched
Ignorant leaves that might as well be hands.