Sappho and the Woman of Starlight

[Note: nominated for a Rhysling Award 2017. Congratulations, Mr. Sexton!]

ἦρος ἄγγελος ἰμερόφωνος ἀήδων
Nightingale, you sing desire;
you are Spring’s harbinger, crier. (Sappho)

A clot of birds appears in the pure sky.
Hidden in that shifting cloud of sparrows
is seated Aphrodite,
come through all the night and into the day
from the far Pleiades.

She knows this, for on the previous midnight,
as Pleiades set with the moon,
she saw a splinter fall from one of the stars.

The sparrows separate just above the field
and Sappho averts her gaze. The dark, compact
bodies of the sparrows were shielding a woman
of glaring silver. She shines, not with the sunlight
of day, but with a light more ancient,
a light from a greater distance, a light
of both the past and the future, a light
unstopping and unstoppable, regardless of day or night.

The light now is in her mind, and the light
is thought. Daughter, you will have the language
of starlight, incorruptible through all the ages.
Long after your pages have rotted, your words
will continue on. Write, daughter, of the world you know,
of the things you see; and between those words
will be the things unknown, the things invisible.
Write, daughter, and out-write the words of men.

Then the voice is gone from her mind and the light
is gone from the field. The sparrows chirp from the hedges
and all that is left is sunlight.

But in her mind, and in her verses yet to come,
is unstoppable starlight. Starlight that has travelled long
and will travel yet, regardless of day or night.

[John W. Sexton lives in the Republic of Ireland and is a Muse pagan. His fifth poetry collection, The Offspring of the Moon, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2013. In 2007 he was awarded a Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship in Poetry. His poems are widely published and some have appeared in Dreams & NightmaresEye to the TelescopeGrievous AngelThe Pedestal MagazineRose Red ReviewStar*Line, and Strange Horizons.]

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