The Coming God

Robin Robertson

after Nonnus

Horned child, double-born into risk, guarded
by satyrs, centaurs, raised
by the nymphs of Nysa, by the Hyades:
here he was, the toddler, Dionysus.
He cried ‘Daddy!’ stretching up to the sky, and he was right
and clever, because the sky was Zeus
his father, reaching down.

As he grew, he learned to flit through other forms;
he’d become a newborn kid, shivering in the corner,
his soft pink skin suddenly the pelt of a goat
and the goat bleating, his hands and feet
now taking their first steps on tottering hooves.

As a grown boy, he would show himself
as a girl, in saffron robes and veils,
moulding his hips
to the coil of a woman’s body,
shaping his lips to speak in a woman’s voice.

At nine he started to hunt.
He could match the jink
of a coursing hare, reach down at speed
and trip it over; chase alongside a young buck and just
lift it from the running ground
and swing it over his shoulder.

He tamed the wild beasts, just by talking,
and they knelt to be petted, harnessed in.
By his boyhood’s end he was dressing in their skins:
the tiger’s tree-line stripe, the fallow deer speckled
like a fall of stars,
the pricked ears of the lynx.

One day he came upon a maddened she-bear
and reached out his right hand to her snout
and put his white fingers to her mouth, her teeth,
his fingers gentle at the bristled jaw,
which slackened
and drew in a huge breath
covering the hand of Dionysus with kisses,
wet, coarse, heavy kisses.