8: Cleis Scamandros

Dark Cleis sat across the room from me

She shared her table with some learned Greeks

My eye was caught by flowers in her hair

And then I caught her eye

 

That night we dined and spoke of Sappho’s verse

She led me deep within the labyrinth

She told me that the Popes burned Sappho’s books

And saying so she sighed

 

“Come to Mytilene”, she then breathed

“You can join me on a boat, if you so choose

I’m going to research the ancient songs

Of the only mortal Muse”

 

We climbed through cypress groves up from the port

To where they staged the comedies of old

And sat beneath the trees with Lesbian wine

At noon in flowering spring

 

She murmured, then, ‘Eressos’ in my ear;

And, once there, told of Lilley’s play

Of Sappho’s silence, Phaon’s spotless vow

And urged I learn these lines

 

The evening was beguiled in her soft lounge

Where after drinks she put some music on

An opera: “Gounod’s Sappho”, she announced

And asked me of my loves

 

I lost myself in wine-enchanted talk

Of all the great Dembowskis of my life

Their beauty, their intelligence, my loss

She lay and urged me on

 

Tell me more, she breathed, of your desire

Of why these long haired lovelies turned you down

And whether they have quite put out your fire

Oh tell me everything!

 

I told her of the greatest of my loves

Of Catriona, Nathalie, and Weili Wu

And then I spoke of Buenos Aires and you

While she removed her clothes

 

In retrospect, she’d played me like a lyre

And how could mortal man resist such hands?

The conversation turned to her desire

To sate my pent up needs

 

Her long hair tossing, wild and open mouthed

She told me that she thirsted for my seed

And fell on me with reckless, ardent kisses

My manhood stood up well

 

For all my recent weariness in Austin

For all my chaste and funerary vows

I could not flee like Phaon from her snare

We coupled then til dawn

 

Those hours on Lesbos will not quickly fade

The taste of Cleis lingers on my tongue

But when, at last, the Sun had risen high

She washed and bade me leave

 

Be quick, she urged, your craft will leave at noon

White flower petals rain upon my heart

I’ve swallowed all your loss and grief and fear

But now you must depart

 

And so I left bright Sappho on the coast

Of bitten mouth, of shouts and twining limbs

Of copulation fraught with life and force

And took to sea again