“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.

Pindar, Bellerophon, and What Heaven is For

Pindar, Isthmian 7.40-49

“Seeking whatever pleasure each day gives
I will arrive at a peaceful old age and my allotted end.
For we all die the same, though
Our luck is unequal. If someone gazes
Too far, we are too small to reach the bronze threshold of the gods.
This is why winged Pegasos dropped his master
When he wanted to ascend the terraces of the sky.
When Bellerophon reached for Zeus’ assembly.
The bitterest end lies in wait
however sweet the injustice.”

ὅτι τερπνὸν ἐφάμερον διώκων
ἕκαλος ἔπειμι γῆρας ἔς τε τὸν μόρσιμον
αἰῶνα. θνᾴσκομεν γὰρ ὁμῶς ἅπαντες•
δαίμων δ’ ἄϊσος• τὰ μακρὰ δ’ εἴ τις
παπταίνει, βραχὺς ἐξικέσθαι χαλκόπεδον θεῶν
ἕδραν• ὅ τοι πτερόεις ἔρριψε Πάγασος
δεσπόταν ἐθέλοντ’ ἐς οὐρανοῦ σταθμούς
ἐλθεῖν μεθ’ ὁμάγυριν Βελλεροφόνταν
Ζηνός. τὸ δὲ πὰρ δίκαν
γλυκὺ πικροτάτα μένει τελευτά.

Bellerophon

Ah, don’t overreach! Yet, methinks Robert Browning might object (Andrea Del Sarto, Called “The Faultless Painter”):

“I, painting from myself and to myself, 90
Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? 95
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
All is silver-gray
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

In one of my favorite modern pieces, the poet Jack Gilbert explores the theme of flying and falling in “Failing And Flying” (from 2005’s wonderful Refusing Heaven) where he begins and ends with a meditation on Icarus. The sentiments seem apt (the text comes from poetryfoundation.org):

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.