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After a Painting of Circe

After a Painting of Circe
by Jacob Rakovan

How they come, to the house in the wood
to be devoured, the green boys fresh from ships.
They elbow one another
Outside the house, the wolves and lions
roll on their backs for their bellies to be scratched

Hers is the sweet-house, the gingersnap house
Baba Yaga’s cottage on chicken legs
and the boys enter in to be eaten.
so eager to throw their bones amidst her furs

She is Theda Bara. She is Barbara Stanwyck.
She is Rita Hayworth, the tutor of boys.

What does it matter, if she weeps when
the cup falls clattering to the stone
and the boys run off, squealing

There was a man, once
who had snowdrops in his teeth
who drank her wine, and stayed
but he is gone, and the sea is dark

The boys come, one after the other
To become something other than they are

There was a girl once
bound in marriage to the muddy dark
To the gravepits and the furrows
to the shadow's house

How she ate one seed of sweetness at his table
and could not leave,
How they brought her flowers and pigs
to lure her from her dark,
Sent heroes and boys like weasels down after
a rabbit in her hole,
when she wrapped herself in burial cloth
and refused the sun

Still they sing and sing for her
And call her bondage spring

Here is blood, and honey
Cold mother, be kind

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Image: Allegory XVI - Circe Cthonia by Herb Roe, 2010

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Jacob Rakovan is a 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in poetry and a resident of Rochester, NY.

What do you think is the attraction of the fantasy genre?

Every story has a strain of the fantastic. It is what makes it worth telling, or what happens to the story when we tell it. For myself, I dislike the term fantasy, as it mostly serves as a ghetto for writing that has been judged insufficiently serious. Homer, for instance, is chock full of monsters and deities, implausible escapes, magical objects, and yet somehow he manages to escape having Fabio airbrushed on his cover in a pirate shirt. The first stories we have are fantastic. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, etc...I think people are attracted to what is now disparaged as "genre" (western, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery) writing because it has some element of the mythic, some element of storytelling beyond reporting, some reach toward meaning. I think these stories will endure, regardless of fashion, or labels, and that the stories that people continue to tell will continue to be ones that have meaning. Magic realism, Myth, Fantasy, Science Fiction, are really all just applied labels to the simple human impulse of storytelling.