For Shelley it was the legs jutting into the air without a body
and the sneer on the face lying upturned in the sand.
For Keats, the urn and its cutting beauty.
For me it was not the emperor-heads crowned with laurel-stone,
or even the Ara Pacis with its chiasmus of characters,
Roma and Romulous, Aeneas and Venus
but instead, the woman’s soft chest in the corner of the room
and the child in her lap; no extremities left
except a small hand lying flat against her heart like a starfish
and on his back, a large hand, magically keeping him from falling.
And between them and around them a corridor of air,
where time cut away all but the essential, moving deftly
like the river we crossed to get here:
tired feet, red light, sun so bright it was hard even to stand still.
Self portrait as Beowulf, if he had had a son, possibly with autism
By the end I had held to all the rules—
I was the right amount of ambitious; not too prideful,
but prideful enough. I never swore to a lie.
I let go of the treasures as quickly as they came
(the twisted collar to Wulfmær, who boasted as much
as he smelled). All the insults I sidestepped,
and resisted starting trouble for my own gain
no matter how clever the scheme. I never unhinged
the little clasp of commitments to get a better view
or feel the breeze on my dampened hair.
Still, I missed some things that reached wider
than the law-codes, or--if not missed, didn’t know
how to weave into meaning: the ever-swollen wound
around his thumbnail, how gentle and sharp-minded
he was, how he avoided others’ eyes
like spears (in time learned to take them, let them
do their damage). The way he was an island
that I loved, a star you could only see
through the periphery of your vision,
but then, what light.
(the phrase “never swore to a lie” comes from lines 2738-9 of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf)
Ginger Hanchey is the director of the Literature and Creative Writing program at Baylor University. Her poems have appeared in Nashville Review, Rust + Moth, and elsewhere. Letters of a Long Name was published in 2019 through Finishing Line Press. website