Long after Sappho

…forgot herself

that he would be like a princess
blessed across from you
blossomed lips
a breath away,

your laugh leaves
me cold with doubt
still your kindnesses
pink and blue flowers,

long after this dormant grass
past the fires and all the dead
batteries burnt matches
library books soot lathed,

long ago the last picture
show the last ’56 Chevy
out of the drive-in
absurd theatre

audience hammering home,
long after the rearmost look
will we remember
the kisses blown

from open hands
and flippant wrists
dissipating smoke rings
the papyrus of your skin

upon which critics crawled
to carve their handles
to try to lift you back
oomph circling overhead.


  1. The critics, yes …
    … the papyrus of your skin

    upon which critics crawled
    to carve their handles
    to try to lift you back
    oomph circling overhead …

    and Sappho …

    … Once again Love, that loosener of limbs,
    bittersweet and inescapable, crawling thing,
    seizes me …

    For me, the kind of love poetry expressing deep roarings in the heart transcend gender.
    Sappho’s experience resonates with Rumi – his total rapture with Shams …

    A thirsty fish …
    … Let my house be drowned in the wave
    that rose last night in the courtyard
    hidden in the center of my chest …

    … For the thirst to possess your love,
    Is worth my blood a hundred times …

    ― Rumi, Love: The Joy That Wounds: The Love Poems of Rumi

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks for the Rumi, Ashen. A thirsty man … Let my house be drowned in the roses that last night waved over the high fence and down into the alley of my heart where searching for fragments I found a few.

  2. philipparees says:

    Brave Joe, to follow Sappho. The ‘critics crawl’ always seems to diminish, traversing through lip-licking speculation, and having then admitted that none might be in anyway interpretable by the modern obsession with both sexuality and individuality, take credit for that acknowledgement! An interesting discovery. Something always fascinating about Sappho. I had never encountered her actual lines before. Seemingly so plain speaking and contemporary. Some real jewels. You capture the allusiveness.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks for reading and comment Philippa. Bravery of the day, though, not to be confused with folly of the evening. Something added to The New Yorker on-line site since I read the hard copy of Mendelsohn’s original article. What Sappho’s poetry may have sounded like – very interesting; listen to the audio clip. Maybe the sound was something a bit harsh and incantatory like that, but I can’t help thinking surely the sound must have been more fluid and wavy and curvy. Who knows, maybe even a rose then is not a rose today, and in that sense even Shakespeare and Stein were mistaken. Connotative meanings shift even more quickly over time. Imagine texting your poem on a piece of pottery, hit the send button, and it takes a few thousand years for the signal to travel to your new you.

  3. philipparees says:

    I rather like the pottery shard possibility. Would let me pause for breath ( and other distractions) I listened: curious, mesmeric sounds. The Greek transliteration just evokes my childhood admiration for the sheer beauty of their alphabet and script. How impoverished it seems not to know Greek. Probably the best reason for Boris Johnson ( he does doesn’t he?) and also the best argument for Enoch Powell too. Somehow classicists seem to rise above all the others.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Well, that appears to be true of Mendelsohn, while I’ve had to eat off the shards like a barbarian. “Robert Graves once said that ‘a strange superstition survives among classicists that some flowers are poetical and others are not’. Mendelsohn would think that superstition strange too. His panoptic gaze takes everything in.” What were things once used for, and of what use are they now, or where are they hidden in the tools we do use daily but never fully understand? “Indeed, a classicist might construe his career as a quiet rebuke to all those who in broadening the scope of academe – television studies, gender studies, theatre studies – have contrived only to narrow the student gaze into ghettoes of solipsistic self-regard.”

  4. johndockus says:

    This may seem completely out of the blue, but I listened to the sound clip of Sappho’s poem being read, with my jaded ears and brain crammed with all and sundry, all sorts of curious associations forming, and not being able to listen to it on one level without snickering to myself, I thought of Kurt Schwitters and his live performance reading of his own Merz poem “Ursonate”.

    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thanks, John, for Great link to Ur – Sonata: sound poetry. I hear the comparison.

      1. johndockus says:

        If I come back reincarnated as Aristophanes, Kurt Schwitters gets a starring role in my play The Birds!

        1. Joe Linker says:

          Good idea, but what with global warming you may have to change the birds to fish and suggest the city be built in the sea, which, of course, maybe it was.

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