From Last Summer to Ancient Greece
|Rain in the west between us and Mount Evans|
August 30, 2011
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|Titian, Danaë and the Shower of Gold|
* * *
A Discreet Purchase
Zeus bought Danaë with golden rain
and I purchase you with a gold coin.
I can’t, after all, pay more than Zeus.
Macedonian poet Parmenion,
between 50 BCE and 50 CE
(tr. Willis Barnstone)
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|Vase painting of Danaë and the Shower of Gold|
c. 410 BCE
(on display in the Louvre)
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All of which got me to thinking about the the inextricably interwoven threads of nature, self, history, money—and, of course, poetry—bringing this post more or less full circle:
Breezy golden light
on the mountain.
Breath by breath,
you climb the rope
of longing and reverie
down into the valley,
where the pine-tree
people have slipped
into a tall, swaying
sleep; and tangled
in the trees’ shadows,
the grass people toss
and bow: you think
you hear the whisper
of their most sacred
story: how bleak
this valley was
when a vast wind
bore the first grasses
into its folds. You lean
toward it, their story,
and those of all
nature’s people, so
alien and so beautiful.
Your ancestors came
from Germany via Ukraine,
from Ireland and Scotland.
Dirt farmers, mostly,
mostly half-assed about it,
buying rocky ground (sight
unseen, but cheap), then
trundling west in Conestogas,
iron-jawed women birthing
and burying along the trail.
Wherever they settled, they’d
one day head to town and glare
into a lens: a family portrait.
What can you buy with joy,
their lampblack eyes would ask,
on this enemy Earth?
Here where Arapaho and Ute
hunted deer in summer, cut poles
for tents, told sacred stories—here
your people platted cramped parcels,
hammered cabins out of rough
pine logs, so that moneyed types
could flee the flatland swelter
and odious foreign laborers. Then:
the Crash. At desks of burnished oak,
ruined men pressed pistol barrels
to their heads, leaving only a stench
of saltpeter and scorched pomade.
Soon the elite sanctuary’s gates
were flung wide to almost anyone
with cash. If not for those shattered
Easy Street fortunes, there’d be no
you pondering these pines, that grass,
that ginger-furred fox, that Taoist
flash of a magpie into the leafy brush.
Why this gloom, then? The world’s
made of stories in which your people
are never mentioned; the sun bleeds
down behind the ridge, beyond
your reach. But true to your class,
you keep on dreaming of being let in.