Hymn to the Rustic Theoi, Praise and Supplication From Southern Appalachia

Sing of mighty Rhea,
Great Mother, Queen of Time.
Make things easy, Mama Rhea,
fold us into Your strength
as You held a stone to your breast: protection.

Purple Mountains Mother,
surely the motherhood of the Blue Ridge
cannot have escaped You. There are midwives
here, bloody-handed lifebringers,
and You and Artemis will decide if that white
farmhouse will hear a squalling baby,
or if the vultures who ride the updrafts
above the river will call out instead.

We’ll sing of Lady Artemis,
who leads a pack of coonhounds down the mountain,
whose wildernesses shrink with each logging truck
rolling up the dirt road.

Artemis cuts deer stands from their trees, preferring the chase
and Artemis strikes women, young and old, with death;
Artemis bathes alone in the iciest of mountain streams,
and Artemis places the face of a black bear amongst the stars.

We’ll sing of the Nymphai Hyperboreai, who will help us through the hunt
Hekaergos — test the power of Your bow,
shoot those universal orange-and-blue foam targets and
flex Your muscles for strength until
You know exactly how much distance You need
between You and Your prey,
between You and the blood,
between You and the guilt.
Opsis — paint Your cheeks
black and dress in orange and green,
hide behind red maple trunks and take
Your aim.
Loxos — the curve, a thrumming string,
the pulleys of a compound bow moving back
into place even as the arrow arcs;
the white edge of an eye, looking at doom,
looking at Artemis,
then death.

The Meliai run like death too,
bronze-armored, bronze-skinned trailer
park princesses. These girls don’t take no shit;
ash-stained fingers are just as good as ink-stained ones,
and when the snow melts and the rains of April come
(flooded homes or no)
they’ll fight the storms from Hades,
they are mothers of great men,
and great themselves — poverty, they’ll say, has nothing to do with it.
And yet they wash away.

We’ll sing of the Potamoi,
muddy-eyed, bull-horned
water-fathers.
Catfish-whiskered,
robed in red clay mud.
Take me back to the Green River,
where paradise lay shining in the creekbed

and of the Okeanides, Naiades,
with whose tears I painted,
one thousand rivulets over dry leaves,
who feed rhododendrons aplenty
in the hollers and folds of the mountain,

and of the Leimonides,
golden spaces hewn from the slopes,
who live now where ancient trees once stood —
pastures were not always for growing,
and You conquered thousand-year growth to get here.

Sing of Aristaios, whose pastures once made
give apiaries and sheep pens a place,
You whose fleeces line the shelves of county fairs,
You whose clover honey; locust honey; basswood honey
lines the stalls of every farmer’s market around.

We’ll sing of the Thriae,
given to Hermes, counting riverstones under bridges —
purple sandstone, red sandstone,
sometimes cold gray limestone, mossy with pollution.
not bridge-trolls, not a big deal,
but small prophecies, small women surrounded,
golden fur over dark skin,
black, stony eyes.

Sing of Kheiron, who teaches English
in a building with broken windows and rotting linoleum.
Teachers can grow old and die, and this school
will never win a football game.

A blacksmith shoes horses for the rich,
and His hammer ringing on iron sings “Hephaistos, Hephaistos.”
He knows these white picket fences,
these green, rolling hills, these dreams of Southern romance
and knows that at least His crippled legs are planted firmly in the mud.

We’ll sing of Hephaistos, sing with coal-black lungs,
sing with coal-dust hearts:
protect our families from this black gold,
this earthen fire. We die to fuel the cities of our world;
Hephaistos, protect us, ease our passing.

Sing praises of Hermes, who plays the banjo on off nights at the Sycamore Café,
because old-time musicians don’t like the lyre-prissy shit.
Hermes who ran for office too many times and now
somehow runs the town.

Sing praises of Hermes, grandfather of tricksters, who throws knucklebones
that could’ve belonged to some hedge-witch grandmother
— lest He leave us to our gambling addictions,
lest our football team should lose — these two things are intertwined.

Dionysos rests on a mound of kudzu,
vines twisting around him — he is growing chaos.
Copper piping twists near him like shimmering vegetation,
and as drunk as they are, the police will never find this still.

Her crown, Corona, twinkles drunkenly above,
and Ariadne smiles in her sleep.

[Reilly S. Blackwell is a writer and cellist living in Southwest Virginia, among the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is inspired by her garden, the intricacies of music and science as they relate to the written word, and the bones of the mountains around her. Reilly’s poetry has previously appeared in Exercise Bowler and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. She performs original work and other compositions regularly in the New River Valley area.]

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