Black Sea Aphrodite

Tony Harrison

Chersonesos, Crimea. Archaeologists reassemble
miscellaneous pebbles to restore Aphrodite
found on the Black Sea the year of my birth,
1937, by Kiev’s Prof. Belov.
An Aphrodite of pebbles made fatal as missiles
when flung by fervid adultress-denouncers,
in sects so hyper-pious they damn all such couplings,
and stipulate suitable sizes for stoning
so adultresses the goddess had goaded to lust
suffer death dragged out slowly (as they deserve!)
and not sooner snuffing with stones more grenade-size,
like those the Taurians lobbed at Orestes,
damaged child like his sister from Trojan War fallout,
as he foamed at the mouth with Furies inside him
driving him to the temple whose ruins stood here,
and Artemis made his sister priestess of.
The temple stood here where these pebbles abound,
before its marble helped make Sebastopol solid
till Crimean War then World War bombarded it flat.

The Black Sea here, between Russia and us,
part ‘grating roar’ part ‘turbid ebb and flow’
but of Bosporus motion and not Dover Beach,
casts unmosaically onto the shore
apple-size, apricot, sugared-almond-size pebbles
and keeps casting and causing reducing abrasions,
too rounded for ducks-and-drakes but do nicely
for umbilicus, hip, pubis, little brown nipples
of the Aphrodite we gazed on not fully assembled.
I ducks-and-drakes some across the Black Sea,
my aiming eye dazzled by afternoon light shafts
that bounce off the harbours on the Russian horizon.
If my skimmed stones could only continue their skipping
they’d cover Georgia, the Caspian, Afghanistan …

I should just let them be, pushed, swooshed, re-immersed
and abraded to the size of pertish brown nipples
like these the half-doffed yellow mantle’s revealing
on the Aphrodite assembled from Black Sea shore scree,
scree full of goddesses for any sized sanctum,
scooped random handfuls of shapeable shingle.

We bathe in the Black Sea then hold hands and run,
surfing so much foam-born pebble potential,
devotees of the goddess defying the stoners.