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The Autobiography of Medusa

The Autobiography of Medusa
by Glenn Halak

They carried a small fire of rage and brought it to me,
all they had to offer, and even then they did not understand
what I would make of them, each one believing in apotheosis.
They had swords, shields, strong chins, fierce eyes.
Some were clever, some not. They entered and did not leave.
I know the stories say I turned them to stone, not accurate
as far as that goes, but not off the mark altogether.
Their little fires fed me but only as torment feeds a tormentor.
Those who believed in me, if terror is belief, sent stalwart heroes
to be transfixed by the light in my eyes. I had been changed
to bring forth a new age where light would seem to turn away darkness.
And I was to play the part of antipode, what must be destroyed.
It was to be an age of shoddy irony, statuary everywhere,
until finally all the marble heroes would crack open and crumble,
to float dust in thin skies. And then again I would appear, the Destroyer.
I would set the dust afire, turn it to splendor.

I had not been cursed as many claimed.
I was the instrument of my own revelations. Heroes and monster together,
we are making a new world. And each time a hero fails in his quest,
multitudes spring forth from me, generations made ready in the womb
of the Faultless so that they too will create heroic progeny.
Those future heroes also will come for a visit, climbing down a curled serpent,
its mouth open over the pregnant belly of Chaos.
It is ever like this.

My temple is difficult to reach. An abyss for a roof,
the fangs of the heaven serpent opening in Endless,
its mouth my temple. I keep fires burning so heroes
will not be daunted by darkness. So their eyes take in
what we are about to achieve, when they see who I am,
and swords fall from their hands and hearts seize,
and shields clatter on the serpent’s brass tongue,
and we all move, move, move in a single thrust of joy.
Ecstasy kills them. No one prepares them for that mirror of fire.
It is sorrow that turns them to stone, not the loving look in my eyes.
I offer pity, sympathy, commiseration for an aloneness
that only the dying can appreciate.
Ecstasy dooms them, those born to be alabaster.
I touch them then, their muscular breasts, shoulders, thighs, their sex.
Then I shatter their eyes with a hammer so they cannot look at me
as I wander, days and nights, past them, in my vault of vastness.
I do not think them defeated for then I would have been defeated as well.
They are allies fallen in battle.
We have consummated nothing except that holiest of curses, time.

What they saw when they looked at me they never had a chance to say.
They had courage, grim determination, dry mouths, thumping hearts,
if that is courage. Most made it to the serpent’s mouth
though some fell before our embrace could happen.
Their screams falling reminded me of home, of the lines of the dead
waiting for a sun that will never rise, and crystal birds that will never sing,
my home where once I walked the long fields of the underworld still unchanged.
Those who made it to the temple sneaked in through the fangs of the serpent,
counting on surprise, but they were the ones surprised. The thunder roared,
a giant fist of noise, and stunned they were too slow, I was on them,
my arms around them, and then they burned, their backs arched,
they were the lightning the thunder had prophesied. They were inside me,
and then they died. I posed their bodies as best I could to honor them.
Then they hardened cold and perfect.
All those heroes keep me company. I drank from their memories when we joined.
How inseparable we were became clear as spring water, even though when alive
they were hardly more than strutting echoes, drawing swords and shouting,
pointing fingers, accusing, blaming, running around in the shadows,
sometimes stopping to wonder if their spirits would go on to a destitute heaven.
I blow on their images as one whispers at a fire that might go out until the Boar
and the Horse began to envy them my attention.
So I pretend to forget about them, except as stone things with broken eyes,
as winter forgets the summer’s breeze, as knife forgets flesh,
as if all that is never was, all our names but rain in a sea of storms.

I bore two sons, long, long after we had been vanquished and left for dead,
fiery as I was cold, wings that incandesced with stars, and the boar’s sex,
gold as the sun when it slipped out between my legs, those many universes ago,
potent, penetrating everywhere, three waiting for the age of mockery to end,
the age of endings, of mankind, the rattle of wind leaving bodies.

We have always been three. It takes three to turn the wheel of the end.
In this age we are tentacled, a womb and an abyss of eyes;
hooves, a lightning’s span of wings, a strong back; tusks, rage and a gold phallus.
We wait for you to come.
You always do, urged on by priests and kings, convinced you can be gods.
You never see us, three shadows under your feet. We have never abandoned you.
You, Perseus, I speak to you, who is coming,
always on the way with winged sandals
and all the other tokens of your victory, foreshadowed, foretold, promised,
to take my maiden head and show it forth, that you may destroy Andromeda
saving her, slicing the dark dragon, it falls into the arms of the sea beast, your uncle,
Perseus, so that Andromeda can become the measure of man as I,
your grandmother, am the measure of the end that begets beginning.
The shield that dooms me is my gift to you, Perseus,
who cuts away so that what remains can stand forth, or fly away,
for what is coming is an age of improbability, what is not meant to be, but emerges,
for all to see, perversions and miracles, a horse that flies, a winged boar, my sons.
Priests will tell stories about you, lies, actually, the best kind,
how you rode the horse, how the boar became a man.
You won’t care. You will lose your taste for Andromeda,
for you can only love what you kill, the dark dragon.
You are the emblem of the new age.
One of my daughters will take and wear my maidenhead over her own.
Nothing is lost.
Or wasted. The stone heroes will fall from the mouth of the serpent into the abyss,
fall for a long time until they are deep enough to become burning wheels of stars.
What becomes of them will light yet another age. Two dark dragons will wait
until you resurrect me so that I may bring them forth into the clarity of the light.
The horse and the boar will have new shapes as will you. We are together.
We can never be apart.

You might think me monstrous born of monsters, born of brother and sister,
my father Phorkys, guardian and creator of the hidden dangers of the deep,
my mother, Keto, huge, as I remember, like the placenta of a star, swimming,
in those early manic waters with their odd endless deeps here and there,
gurgling in places where the world had not yet turned to rock or fire
so that the tentacled light still believed it could be anything it wanted
in depths of night confused with day, in shapeless ever yet to be.
My parents’ mother was the Earth, was Form, she had a son without a father,          
Pontus, waves that couple waves begetting waves, the sea, their father,
distillate of chaos. You, human, who believe yourself so fully formed,
are a fish-scale sinking into mud, and your mind you tout so highly a mere hiccough          
of fear, and though you live in dry houses on dry land you too are water’s children,
incestuous, unholy coupled underneath, sea-spewed eggs upon the terror
of a beach, my grandfather’s iridescent skin rippling, throwing the sun back
upon itself in ancient enmity, little jellies forced to live between immensities.

My face that turns you to stone is all the places you cannot, dare not go,
an endlessness of shapes rising from a well of silent grief and rage.
It is you that have tried to turn me to stone. But I am beyond time.
You who spend your life in little roofed-in graves, the ocean wrinkled as prunes,
the sky a leather curse, the sun dressed in veils of widow black, effaced.
Your fate is to become statuary moments.
Your dread keeps you from looking anywhere that is not a beach,
the surface of a wave, a skim of blood, a shiny shield.

If I rage, who would not, forced to follow you into this strange realm of half-undead,
where I must ravage and destroy your foolish, deadly hopes.
I am your guardian, after all, though you do not wish to know it.
Ecstasy, come heroes, I will teach you ecstasy.

* * *

Glenn Halak says: I started writing poetry and painting very early, inspired by my great-grandmother's poetry and painting. I love images that carry me up into the dark, to paraphrase Tomas Tranströmer. I get writing and paintings out into the world - I’ve had a book of poems published by a defunct online publisher, writerswebpress, back in 1998 and have had poems published over the years, three children's books, some plays produced and lately two one-acts published, some short fiction as well, are out in the world - but it’s the process of interaction with what’s real, surreal, unreal and unimagined that keeps me going.

Where do you get the ideas for your poems?

The poems these days are lining up impatiently and the best I can do is get out of their way. It’s probably what Whitman meant when he wrote he contained multitudes.

What inspires you to write and keep writing?

This poem was helped along by reading Peter Kingsley on the pre-Socratics, e.g. A Story That Will Pierce You, and how necessary it is to heal ourselves of rationalism’s distortions.