Ed Higgins’ poems and short fiction have appeared in various print and online journals including recently: Ekphrastic Review, CarpeArte Journal, Under the Basho, Wales Haiku Journal, and Sum Journal, among others. Ed is Professor Emeritus, English Dept. and Writer-in-Residence at George Fox University. He is also Asst. Fiction Editor for Ireland-based Brilliant Flash Fiction. He lives on a small organic farm in Yamhill, OR where he raises a menagerie of animals, including a male whippet, Mr. Toffee, and an Indian Runner duck named Duck.
“The question is not, can they reason nor can they talk? but, can they suffer?”
Triple snarling Cerberus
snaps fire at killer Hercules’ heels,
the Hades-guarding dog only minding
his divine business, brutally clubbed
and ripped from the underworld
as Hercules’ final atonement for killing
his own family in a fit of madness.
The fierce three-headed dog, throat-grabbed,
labors to free itself. Cerberus’ tail slashing
the Greek’s legs and thigh as the dog
is wrestled to the ground. A bloodied knee
rammed into its side like a trireme’s battering ram.
No one cares to see a dog so ill treated.
Especially by such a flammable anger-riot
full of the mistakes of being cruelly human,
even though celebrated with heroic myths.
This is cruelty to animals on a hubris scale.
Better to toss spiked honey cakes to the
poor beast as Aeneas does slipping past
the drugged Hound of Hell. Or as Virgil,
leading Dante past the fearsome creature,
tosses mud into its three gapping maws,
temporarily chocking ravening Cerberus.
Hercules full of his bastard god-birth
(Zeus forever fucking mortal women)
is partially immortal. Impartially drenched
in numerous mortals’ and animal’s blood.
There are vase paintings of captured Cerberus
being dragged from Hades bound in looped chains,
subdued by Hercules’ massive olive-wood club.
Shielding Hercules from Cerberus’ fanged jaws,
the Nemean lion’s hide: a pelt ripped from another
animal the blood-soaked zoosadist had clubbed
then strangled to death in the first of his labors.
Accomplishing this final labor Hercules parades
subdued Cerberus through various Greek cities,
finally to the Mycenaean King Eurystheus who
commanded Heracles’ labors for his family murders.
According to some accounts Cerberus
is grudgingly returned to Hades by Hercules
himself. Others insist Cerberus escaped the madman,
returning to his underworld guard duties. Ever
warily awaiting further intrusive descenders
into these dark regions of the dead.
“Someone, I tell you/will remember us./We are oppressed by/fears of oblivion.”
—a Sappho fragment
Two Roman busts have come down to us, both copies
of supposed earlier Greek originals, from the 4th. century BC.
One has two long stylized hair locks flowing down
the bust’s front to where her breasts would be if the modest
marble had presented us with such. Her locks flow
as multiple stylized curls, crescent-like across her forehead.
The second Roman bust, from another lost Hellenistic original,
shows Sappho with shorter hair tucked under some kind
of band around her forehead—while slipping beneath the band
short, slightly curly hair runs along the sides, revealing her ears.
Her lips are fuller here and the nose prominently Roman,
which has suffered some kind of desecration or damage.
Her eyes and slightly tilted head seem pleading,
or perhaps only in pondering thought.
An early depiction of Sappho also survives on an Attic red-figure
kalathos, a kind of ceramic vase in the shape of a household basket.
Here she is holding a plectrum and lyre while turning to listen
to her contemporary poet-friend Alcaeus, also holding a lyre.
Another Greek pottery vessel, used for carrying water, a two-handled
kalpis, depicts Sappho on a more common black-figure Greek vase.
In both red and the black figure depictions she has long hair
either in a bun or cascading double twists of breast-length curls
Little is known about her for certain–although her now mostly
lost poetry was well known and much praised through antiquity.
Sappho’s poet-friend Alcaeus remembers her thus:
“Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho.”
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All poems on this post: © Ed Higgins
Published with the permission of Ed Higgins