Postcard From Lesbos


It is written that in antiquity a visitor
to her island would have the tomb
pointed out. But there is no mausoleum
now no grave as there are no whole volumes
of her verse though there are words
though there are shards

buried more deeply in secondary sources
than the scrolls sifted from the sands
of Egypt. At the end

of the twentieth century, in Mytilini, what
I find is a statue in a square
of the southern waterfront. An altar
of cement in rubble, some straggly
flowers where the figure of Sappho
looks out to sea. Her Troy is
gone, Turkey darkens the horizon
and the port smells of petrol and piss.

She seems so bland, the muse, white-
washed by scholars into
mother. As with the mounds of knucklebones
in the archaeological museum which tell
me nothing
of hands, not whose, not how

many, this pasty icon is mute. What
remains of Sappho
besides a name,
besides a few lines without a face?
This milky model of a woman with her lyre

balanced on her shoulder like a jug is, if
mother, then mother of us all.

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