. . . in Love and War
Some say the thing of greatest worth
Upon the black face of the earth
Is a mighty troop of horse
Or foot, or ships in force.
I say it’s none of the above:
I say it is the one you love.
But this is obvious to all
Who have been in thrall.
Take Helen—loveliest disaster—
Jilted her fine lord and master
And sailed to Troy across the water,
No thought for parents, daughter,
Once Aphrodite lit the fire
And enlisted her desire.
So Anaktoria, far away,
Haunts my thoughts today:
Her graceful stride and shining face
I set in a higher place
Than infantry in ranks and ranks
And all the armored tanks.
Minutes swarm by, holding their dirty hands out,
Begging change, loose coins of your spare attention.
No one has the currency for them always;
Most go unnoticed.
Some are selling packets of paper tissues,
Some sell thyme they found growing wild on hillsides,
Some will offer shreds of accordion music,
Sad and nostalgic.
Some have only cards with implausible stories,
Badly spelled in rickety, limping letters,
“Help me--deaf, etcetera--one of seven
Brothers and sisters.”
Others still accost the conspicuous lovers,
Plying flowers looted from cemeteries,
Buds already wilting, though filched from Tuesday’s
Who’s to say which one of them finally snags you,
One you will remember from all that pass you,
One that makes you fish through your cluttered pockets,
Costing you something:
Maybe it’s the girl with the funeral roses,
Five more left, her last, and you buy the whole lot,
Watching her run skipping away, work over,
Into the darkness;
Maybe it’s the boy with the flute he fashioned
Out of plastic straws, and his strident singing,
Snatches from a melody in a language
No one can teach you.
Hesperus, you reunite
What dawn divides from one another—
The businessman and the suburb,
The couple and their chronic argument,
The toddler in daycare with his frazzled mother.
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published two books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award, and Hapax (2006). Her verse translation of Lucretius, The Nature of Things, was published by Penguin Classics. “After Sappho” first published in First Things; “Minutes” first published in Hapax; “...in Love and War” first published in Archaic Smile.