Troy: Seven Voices

©2010, 2011 Jennifer A. McGowan

published in September 2010 Envoi.

I. Patroclus

Gold is heavy,
and chafes.

the fear of who I'm not
is effective,
the desperate pause
as I approach
making the thrust easy, and then
the soft sibilance
of blood on the ground.

Who'd have thought
one dice game
and a teenage crush
would lead to these endless forays
against the walls,
this skilled impersonation?

I've done more than fifty, I bet.
My arm is almost tired.
I stretch as Chiron taught us
crack my neck
and stride forward.

At last.

II. Greek Soldier

All we wanted
was to get a glimpse of her.
The one we'd come for. The one
made fools of kings
and warriors of farmers.

Each morning
before dawn
before the light could betray us
we'd scan the walls
and the tower windows
for a sight.

We never got one.
Throughout the years of fighting,
these years of boy into man
we dreamed. Silently
to each other we'd relate
our stories of her, the way she'd look sideways
and knees that never knew fear
would buckle. How her eyes
shone like lightning
and burned.

And how at the end
the one we'd all come to
we'd hear quiet footsteps
and the white fingers that closed our eyes
would be soft as featherdown
and one bright tear
would be our swansong.

III. Scamander

I have carried this weary leaf
from hoary mountain slopes over rocks
past thirsty roots and wading herons
past shoals of trout, silver-scaled,
to this broad plain. Now my waters swell
to flood. Armour and keepsakes sink.
I bring the detritus of flesh
with its seeping red
to the receiving sea
where all burdens are absorbed
and nameless.

IV. Astyanax

Just a moment of flight
was all there was.

V. Polyxena

Dear Achilles,

I didn't want this.
Not the fame,
not the long blue gaze
over my brother's body
that drowned us.

When I threw my bracelets down
from the tower to make up
Hector's ransom, I was throwing you away,
knowing you'd not survive him long.

I should have known
a self-love big as yours
wouldn't rest in an easy grave.
Even dead you must get
what you want.

So I dress
as if for my wedding
while Andromache and my women
mourn. But let me tell you,
my blood
will bring you no peace.

When I fall
I will fall with the weight of Troy
and my shade's arms
around your neck
will be a millstone.

VI. Cassandra

Listen to me: looks aren't everything,
but they help. Sixteen and cursed by a god-
well, that wasn't good, but once the walls fell
and knives were everywhere, a tear-stained
and pretty face was my ticket back to life.
A trophy's not the best option, but as a princess,
let's face it, I was born to belong to someone,
whatever name you put on it.

I look at these new and proud owners
and see beyond them to their deaths.
Some by women's hand; some by fire;
others by neglect, as war wounds infect
and incapacitate. Agamemnon, now,
he goes home to a story
they'll be telling for years. He's forgotten
he married Helen's sister,
who comes with her own price
and a lifetime grudge of being second.

The shadows of Troy are long. What they touch
will falter. The gods must have tragedy.
Speaking of which, my vision clouds again:
I hear screams and tears
and the thunk of the axe.
It shouldn't come as surprise
that I'm as mortal as you are,
but, like you, I don't listen.

VII. Hecuba

Ancient bitch, empty dugs-
battling for scraps, for
the smallest thing to crunch
between blunted teeth.

You'd think, wouldn't you,
that fifty sons would be enough.
That one would be left.
Instead, pyre after pyre,
when I even got that,
and a husband cut down at the altar.
An embarrassment of corpses.

Not that I was embarrassed.
They all fought well. We weren't the invaders.
Only Paris, smitten, young,
not old enough not to pray,
believed a promise. He always was a fool,
but he had the sweetest voice
and a smile would charm you
every time.

So fifty sons dead. Good as.
My daughters? I can't bear to think.
I should have listened to Cassandra,
looked that gift horse in the mouth,
something. Anything.

But the gods
in their slanted pity
changed me to run through the night
and whine.

And I did run. To the bowels of boats,
hiding in cargo, then on land
through forests, valleys, even backyards
if the night was thick enough.
I followed the Greeks' bloody footsteps
with my own raw ones.

On these black slopes now
under a hunter's moon
I stalk their children
and howl curses
to ever darker
and more ancient gods.

Author's note

Hecuba and Cassandra are fairly well-known mythological figures. Polyxena was another daughter of Hecuba's, and another woman with whom Achilles fell in love. His shade returned to the battlefield and demanded that Polyxena be sacrificed to him.

Patroclus was the best friend (and some say lover) of Achilles who, when Achilles threw one of his many temper tantrums and refused to fight, donned Achilles' armour and went out onto the battlefield, ultimately resulting in his own death.

The Scamander was the river that flowed by Troy.

Astyanax was the infant son of Hector and Andromache. Achilles' son Neoptolemus threw him off the walls of Troy.

Further reading