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The Siren Hears Orpheus

The Siren Hears Orpheus
by Sandi Leibowitz


White sails against blue water
lured us—a ship of heroes.
We circled like sharks.

Come, I sang, to my garden,
rest under cypresses sick
with hyacinth scent,
the land firm under your feet.

Come, I sang, know wealth,
know fame.
You are the hero I’ve been seeking,
you are the strongest of all.

Come, I sang, into my arms.
I lifted them to reveal
breasts whiter than sun-cured shell.
I’ll share you with my sisters,
each of us skilled as Aphrodite.

A boy onboard turned toward me,
snagged, I thought,
on my hook.

But he waved gold hair from his face,
lifted his lyre,
and sang to us instead.

Listen, he sang, I sing you coves,
foam-swept caves
loud with sea-anemone tongues
mumbling emerald syllables.

he sang, I sing you green
storms to ride,
wave-consumed moons,
galloping stars.

he sang, I sing you wrecks
and lovely boys.
How sweetly they struggle,
how sweetly surrender.

I almost drowned
in the trembling air
as the ship left us in its wake
straining to swallow his notes,
craving his music’s drug,


* * *

Sandi Leibowitz writes fiction and poetry for adults and children, mostly fantasy, often based on myths and fairy-tales. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Apex, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, Abyss & Apex and Cricket. When not writing or being a school librarian, she performs with NY Revels, the classical vocal ensemble Cerddorion and the early-music trio Choraulos. A native New Yorker, Ms. Leibowitz shares her aerie with some ravens, two ghost-dogs and the occasional dragon.

Where do you get the ideas for your poems?

Sometimes a line or phrase enters my head and insists on being turned into something. It doesn’t always work—but I usually try. When I was a kid, I kept notebooks littered with such phrases, or scribbled them on scraps of paper, but seldom did anything with them. When I began to take my writing more seriously, I paid better attention to these whispers from the muse.

At other times, an idea for a narrative forms, or some piece of myth or fairy-tale beckons to me. Other times, I actively think about some issue or story I want to write a poem about. When I wrote “The Siren Hears Orpheus”, I’d just read a passage alluding to the story of the sirens hearing Orpheus. I’m a singer and wondered what it would be like for a magical being whose life centers around singing to hear the music of someone so far superior to her. At the time I was studying early Italian opera and Baroque gesture with NY Continuo Collective; the poem originally had the siren aiding her art with a hand movement (it ended up not working for the poem). As a writer and a musician, I always strive for beauty—and don’t always succeed. The poem is about that striving, and about what it's like to be swept away by art.