Issue 7,  Poetry

Erysikthon by Phyllis Meshulam

          A Thessalian king who chopped down the sacred grove of the goddess
          Demeter (Ceres) in order to build himself a feast-hall. Theoi Greek Mythology

A many-turreted tree, sacred to holy Ceres,
twig-fingers webbed with new green,
prayer flags attached. 
But he will have none of that. 
For lumber and his empire, it will be dispatched. 
“Foreman, henchmen, bring it down! 
Who cares for the curse of its resident nymph?
I will build the finest feast hall,
the polish, the sheen of its hardwood floors.
The glossy tables with an inner flame
captured in its woody grain. 
The dazzling chandeliers.”

“Sir, I cannot chop it,” the foreman says. 
“You will, or I’ll chop you,” he tells him, and does. 
Man and tree both shed human blood. 
The nymph calls out her curse, then calls on Ceres, 
goddess of grain and plenty, who calls on 
the shriveled wraith, Hunger, to inhabit him.

“Hunger, hungah – mine – stirs, burns. 
Platterful of quail, their toothpick bones slide down.
And the cavern opens again. 
Platterful of roast goat – consumed! 
Sell the platter, after licking off its grease. 
Sell the feast hall for a few more feasts. 
And when the oxen is gone, dismembered 
limb by limb, its blood all drunk for wine, 
the last goblet filled, drained, sold 
for the price of one last pour, 
sell the daughter as a slave. Her anklets 
fetch an extra price. 
And when all that is gone,
what of this hairy arm? 
I cry in pain when I bite it, but it must 
be shoveled into the roaring furnace
of my gut. What of this muscled leg?”


Phyllis Meshulam is author of Land of My Father’s War, winner of an Artists Embassy International Prize, 2019, published by Cherry Grove Collections. Joy Harjo, current Poet Laureate of the United States, said of Meshulam’s book, an “urgency of spirit has emerged eloquently here in these poems of perception and even prophecy….” Meshulam is a veteran teacher for California Poets in the Schools, editor of CalPoets’ Poetry Crossing, and has an MFA from Vermont College.

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