Phyllis Capello

Phyllis Capello

Phyllis Capello was born and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She’s been exploring her fascination with myths since Third grade. Her collection “Packs Small Plays Big” was published by Bordighera Press in 2018.


Once on Crete’s abundant shore
Minos asked Poseidon for a sign:
Out of the blue swam a luminous bull,
milky white as stars!
Blinded by such magnificence,
the story goes, Minos put
a lesser bull to death instead
and went from king to cuckold.

But what if, all the while,
the bull was meant for Pasiphae
and not the fire? after all, Asterious
was a king himself and her power
harkened back to Magna Mater.
So perhaps his radiance was contrived?
not as honor’s test but to wake
a sleeping queen’s desire?

Never mind that she was a woman
and he a bull; everyone here is a coupling
of human and beast; and rutting madness
always finds a way—just look around you!
The ancients said a bull’s horns
were twin new moons; he mounted her
as a cow on Crete’s white shore but Pasiphae
was The All-Illuminating, The Glimmering One,
Daughter of the Sun and Moon; Daedulus’
contraption of wood and hide was her disguise.
She waited in the dark within as a queen
and bride, not the first woman or the last
who has made for herself a different skin
and climbed inside.

A Stranger to the Story

Poseidon’s hounded him; he’s just washed ashore
on his remnants of raft in a god-rage made storm;
and soon King Alcinous’ unsinkable fleet
goes to a terrible end trying to sail him home.
He’ll tell us, after he cries, that despite Calypso’s
many charms, the nightly lovemaking,
he wept gallons trapped on her isle.

How is it a naked shipwrecked man receives,
not just the rags and scraps he begs,
but a princess’ interest, her sage advice
and a purple tunic woven by a queen?
Was he as alone as he seemed?
Gray-eyed Athena turned village-girl
to point him through Phaecia’s maze of streets.
Didn’t he swing open the palace gates boldly,
for a sea-tossed captain without ship or mates?

Honored guests are bathed, rubbed with oil,
roasts and breads prepared, Odysseus
made his libations from the king’s side,
so why hide, sobbing—lustrous fabric
drawn across his face—as the blind rhapsod
sang of Troy, when it was he who’d asked?

No one sees his own actions, we’re blind
as we live them, at home, or on the battlefield;
in story they’re reborn; Homer makes him weep
not during his hardships, the loss of friends,
but as a man at the banquet with an appetite
for words; every warrior going out young,
knife in hand, has a name; wise kings know
when to ask, and to invite a poet to the feast
who returns to us in song the immensity
of what we haven’t seen in what we’ve done;
oh, for a tunic at a time like that!

How Women Get to Hell

With some it is circumstantial:
familiar terrain reconfigures, one
misstep and lives disassemble:
illness manifests, husbands vanish,
children spin wildly off into darkness.
The certainty of loss is bitter on their tongues
as they descend.

Others march there,
fancied up, lusty enough
to kiss the devil; the gate
swings open, destiny
turns the key.

Some marry the devil,
spend lifetimes exchanging
immense effort for small affection,
terrified silence for perilous calm.
They enter meekly, bereft of thought,
empty of notions.

But the young ones,
because they are blind,
or blithe or beautiful,
seem to find the path no matter
which way they turn;
that slippery golden path,
which takes them, smiling
and unsuspecting, to the brink
where they stand, pretty toes
pointing down, ready
for the push.

No One Escapes Aphrodite

Tell, Muse, how we lay
on the littered sand of a city beach
as if on a silken bed;
how the moon lit my longing,
my lover’s face, and pushed me to him;
how an ocean rose and fell
at our feet while streets hushed themselves
to nonexistence; that the world
became his hands making the shape
of my wrists, the white foam of my breasts,
guiding waist and hips in the little dance
from which a labyrinth unfurled;
how for all that and the tears,
I still hear the sea, still some memory
breaks at its crest to wash over me.

Persephone’s Mouth

                                  for L.

Even in hell Persephone was a poet,
could sense the strong tug of the world,
the moon’s passage; the furious hoof beats
of her mother’s passion; she’d been instructed
in the frailty of innocence, knew
that beasts were ever-prowling, still,
she went flower-gathering.

He plucked her; she struggled, cried
out to her companions; they tumbled down.
He pounded her essence,
commanded her to yield the world,
put his whirling darkness in her.

When it was over
she had to rethink herself,
learn the unfamiliar mysteries of darkness,
invent the secret language of the self,
envision the spinning dance of stars.

To become the brute’s victor,
she’d outsmart him: if he must try
to reduce her, she would enlarge,
wrench herself open,
let the whole world rush out.

Penelope’s Jazz

                    Muse, sweeten up a solo, will ya?


Blame yourself for not noticing, Muthos,
shutting women down, never shutting up,
shoving wax in when, Goddess knows,
those ears are deaf enough!

Penelope’s all-day tunes, her gift
for harmonizing threads kept a kingdom calm;
moonlight transposing, plot line untangling;
how long did that ace string the suitors along with:

               “Can’t touch yet, boys—not with a half-finished
                              burial rag on my loom!”

That’s composer talk, a musician marking time, pro
dampening certain strings, vamping in rhythm ‘til
the next player steps up with the new Be-bop.

                  Did she dissolve, Muse?
                  She wiped her tears.

Let me ask you, Silver Eyes:
               who doesn’t know a single mom scats to pass the time,
               that chops are chops when he hears them?

The cat who does not listen!
The cat who simply cannot dig the ways a queen can groove.

Remember Daddy-O Dysseus strumming
by the fire? Pattern-picking that little old
four-stringed phorminx—all major key diddling, Muse;
no passing chords; blood and gore ballads,
Muzak for the masses!


What hepcat, when his catgut droops, stays home?
Not a thrill-seeking polymetis—his love-bliss-wonder
gets a little worn that sea dog’s jonesing
for his next hit of passion—all the usual
artery and semen spurting sports.

Finally, key change: lick of dissonance, unexpected
modulation into minors when Daddy-O wakes up,
teary-eyed human spouse, next to a goddess-wife,
on an island of pigs.

Remember first he tried to dodge the kingly draft,
lay low in his tree-house crib,
then he was all for sailing the wine-dark
on a state of the art, willing to keep his mates
from harm: Agamemnon-the-daughter-killer
and what’s-his-name, Mena, Menala—Helen’s useless prince?
Why Muse, all three together, couldn’t keep
even one half-goddess well-tuned!


Penelope knew the Tin Pan Alley jingles of home:
some pig sty ditties and banquet hall standards,
how best to enter and exit a funeral keel—
but, if a sea wind shifted her veils, the distaffs
clacked a certain way standing at her loom
The Blues got left behind and Daughter-of-Metis,
those courtyard sisters sent tones ‘cross the Aegean
hot enough to match the counterpoint
of marriage dance, fashioning from air
tales of earthly pulse and rising hips.

Be honest, when a queen improvises,
predicting the next note spot on, sets each phrase
grooving true to its root, returning to the hook
on a whim—ripping or weaving
call it what it is, Muse—jazz! the sly middle,
the juiciness in the fabric of everything.

The gods weave bitterness; that’s their task,
but whatever heaven brings, a queen’s gonna tango
whenever she can and run the family business,
with a milky Telemachus at her tit.

Poetry in this post: © Phyllis Capello
Published with the permission of Phyllis Capello