Long ago, two black doves left Thebes,
in Egypt, one pointed at Ammon,
in Libya, the other aimed
at Dodona. Each alit
on an oak and proclaimed that tree
an oracle of Zeus. Priestesses
suspended brazen vessels
from the branches, read the entrails
of sacrificed animals, answered
difficult questions, and listened
in the evening to cooings of doves.
At Delphi, however, Earth herself
installed Daphnis as her prophetess.
Seated on a tripod, she drank
the fumes of prophecy. But later,
Mother Earth ceded, rented or gave
her oracle to Apollo,
whose Hyperborean priests,
Pagasus and Agyieus, installed
and perpetuated his cult.
The first Delphic shrine was beeswax
and feathers. The second, fern stalks,
the third, laurel boughs. Later
came bronze and golden songbirds,
but Mother Earth devoured them.
The fifth, of cut stone, burned down
as best as stone can burn. The last
crumbled for lack of faith.
remains but a slight depression
on a hillside. I’ve climbed this far
to find a scatter of fragments,
a tangle of weeds, and one dove
silent in the boughs of a pine.
Far below, the yellow countryside
gazes up at me posing here
in mockery of god and self,
bare rocks grinning in the sun.

[William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel(2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors.  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge. He also blogs here.]

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