Apollo and Daphne

 

Rome in August. Only the tourists and the feral cats are left.

Fugitive from the heat, I take sanctuary in the Villa Borghese.

Beyond its heavy doors, the squeak of trainers and the smell of beeswax.

 

In a wedding cake of a room, a sculpture in white marble:  

A youthful Apollo chases a naked Daphne. As his hand touches her waist

She turns away, arms reaching up, fingers sprouting leaves,

Toes sending forth roots, bark closing around her legs and hips.

 

This binary star pulls me in to its orbit.

As I circle my perspective shifts.

 

Now the bile of Daphne’s revulsion rises in my throat.

Now the softness of her belly gives way beneath my fingers.

 Now my skin tightens and scabs over.

 Now my fingers are pinched between closing layers of bark.

 Now I’m high with the sugar-rush of rising sap.

 Now I breathe in the warm, woody scent of bay leaves.

 

I stop.

Below Daphne’s feet words are carved into the plinth –

Mediaeval graffiti ordered by a fat cardinal:

‘Pursuing earthly pleasures always ends in tears.’

An object of passion and beauty ten million years in the making

Reduced to a sound bite in Latin.

 

I close the cover on my mental notebook.

 

In the eternal city

Gian Lorenzo carves scalpel lines in space-time

While I hack away at nothing

With a sledgehammer of words.

 

(c) Helen Lewis, 2009

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