“Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor”

A guest poem from Andrea Grenadier : “Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor”

The end came quietly somewhere in the middle.
It may have begun at a backyard party
with a backhand comment
whispered away so you wouldn’t hear.
Or maybe it was in the kitchen,
busy with another barbecue or crawfish boil,
that something was said.

Your life was filled with events that stirred
from one to the other in tidy steps,
but soon your songs were barren
of the lyric you believed in before tenderness turned.
You lost your desire for the knowing of it,
and it slipped out the back porch door.
During your casting off,
your eyes were fixed to some other horizon.
In your escape, you left everything.

We sat before your favorite painting
in which Catullus, like the artist,
pinned to an endless canvas his siren-call to sea.
Lowering your head over the sphere of your fists,
and whispering “please,”
you prayed for Catullus, for both of you,
to reach shores without shoals, amen.
You despaired, once through the narrow passage,
that coming upon all that’s seen isn’t knowledge of it.

Windstrong, headstrong, salt-stung, uncleansed,
My limbs tired from their labors coursing
the dotted lines of ancient sea maps.
A bag of wind rips open at Bithynia,
and carries me from west to east.
I sang odes at my brother’s tomb, and readied my return.
Through scalding waves I was raised aloft,
my sailors spoke of ports that lay beyond the brilliancies of skies, of seas,
and the earth that came to me in my dreams.

They were raised not to talk about it,
but your daughters whispered prayers
to some god other than ours for your safe return.
They came back to you with the knowing of the unknown,
never having replaced you. They were drawn back
with grace enough to forgive whatever it was, but never say.
In their eyes, you never grew old.
You were as the day you left,
the day you slipped out the back door:
lithe, handsome, brave
before everything fell.

“Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor” is a remarkable painting by the American artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011). His biography says: “Inspired by ancient Mediterranean history and geography, Greek and Roman mythology, and epic poetry, Twombly created—sometimes on a grade scale, in multi-panel works—a sometimes-inscrutable world of iconography, metaphor, and myth.”

Catullus, Carmen 101

“Drawn across many nations and seas
I come to your pitiful resting place, brother
To present you with a final gift at death
And to try to pointlessly comfort mute ash–
because chance has stolen you away from me.
My sad brother, unfairly taken from me.
For now, accept this, the ancient custom of our ancestors
Handed down as the sad gift for the grave,
Given with a flowing flood of fraternal tears
And forever, my brother, hail and farewell.”

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

By day, Andrea Grenadier is a communications and marketing specialist and editor for a national public health organization based in Washington, D.C. She began writing poems in 2005, and has been published in Pennsylvania English, the literary journal of Penn State University, and Poems of War and Peace, published in Canada, as well as in other journals. She is currently preparing her first chapbook of poems, What Brings Me Here, for e-publication. Andrea lives in Alexandria, VA.

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