Dotted Line Dotted Line

Poetry Summer 2015    fiction    all issues


Cover Hannah Lansburgh

Jennifer Leigh Stevenson
For Your Own Good
& other poems

Marianne S. Johnson
& other poems

Kate Magill
Nest Study #1
& other poems

Karen Kraco
& other poems

Matt Daly
Beneath Your Bark
& other poems

Paulette Guerin
& other poems

Hank Hudepohl
Crossed Words
& other poems

Alma Eppchez
At the Back of the Road Atlas
& other poems

Jim Burrows
At the Megachurch
& other poems

Rachel Stolzman Gullo
& other poems

Yana Lyandres
New York Transplant
& other poems

Heather Katzoff
& other poems

Tom Yori
& other poems

Barth Landor
What Is Left
& other poems

Abigail F. Taylor
Never So Still
& other poems

George Longenecker
Polar Bears Drowning
& other poems

Ben Cromwell
Sometimes a Flock of Birds
& other poems

Robert Mammano
the way the ground shakes
& other poems

Janet Smith
Rocket Ship
& other poems

Gina Loring
& other poems

J. Lee Strickland
Minoan Elegy
& other poems

Toni Hanner
Catching the Baby
& other poems

J. Lee Strickland

Minoan Elegy

Starting with Europa and with Zeus,

the flowers and the beach, the rape and rapture.

All the sordid excesses of gods

that lead us, in the end, to what we are.

Torches flare

and break into the long oppressive night.

The labyrinth walls, the floor, the vaulted heights

are tortured into hardened shapes

by leaping blades of light.

The glare wounds eyes pulled wide

by timeless time in lightless dark

and Minotaur recoils (a move he instantly regrets).

The brilliant feast is crumbs now snatched away

as darkness falls again,

broken by false ghostly shapes

that dance across his eyes.

If we could see him now what would we see?

Skin bleached white by life in constant night.

A massive taurine head perched on

a lean, hard-muscled, naked frame.

A body fitting of the offspring of a god.

And sadness . . .

So great a sadness the beast in him

must bear the whole.

That, too, worthy of the gods

if ever gods showed feeling for

the sorrows that they wrought.

In darkness he listens.

The first low moans come

mixed with whispered bits of speech

as the sharp smell of fear reaches his nose.

The voices are new. The ritual is old.

He doesn’t know how old, for

he cannot say, awake or in his dreams,

how time goes by,

the calculation linked to long ago

when light and dark had equal weight,

their alternations ticked the passing days.

Now, like the only tick of some great clock,

the torches flare and unseen hands thrust victims

to their final night,

to Minotaur a signal that

the senseless dance of humankind

continues just above.

The moans grow more despairing

as these lost souls slowly move apart.

Each thinks to find a way back to the gate

through which they came,

but all are wrong.

Fear and darkness confound every sense

as tortured angles of the labyrinth

do their part to trump the unaccustomed ear.

The Bull-man’s nostrils flare.

His ears keen to each separate, novel sound.

He moves easily in the inky dark

going toward the gate.

He knows each scruple of the stone-strewn floor,

each crevice of the chiseled walls.

His hands trace knowing patterns as he walks.

He knows already the fate

of these sorry pawns of sacrifice.

They, like all those come before, will stumble

through the labyrinth’s twisted gut

first thinking to discover some way out,

then hoping to rejoin their doomed companions.

Finally, failing all,

just moving, moving to out-pace

the brutal fear that eats at their insides.

Perhaps a ravening monster would be

mercy measured by this bleak prospect,

but such a one will not be found

within these damp, dark walls. Instead

each will find a separate cul-de-sac

among the labyrinth’s countless halls,

there to wait upon the cruelest beasts

of hunger and of thirst.

A hundred twisted steps before the gate

the Bull-man stops. There’s something different

in this group, a novel hint that slices through

the spreading cloud of fear.

There’s one who has not moved.

Minotaur smells the strong odor

of a male

and hears the even breathing, calm

without a hint of panic.

He senses the repose of one at easy rest.

Then torchlight flares anew

and burns his eyes

as voices rise, a woman’s, then a man’s.

He knows his sister’s voice

though he’s not heard Ariadne since a child.

“I have your sword and here, a shuttled thread

that you’ll unwind as you go on.

The other end I’ll fix here at the gate.

Be careful.

Daedalus himself was nearly lost

among these walls,” she says and

fear adds its harmonic to

the quaver in her voice.

The man replies, curt words of one

intent upon a task.

The light withdraws.

Here the moment dreams foretold.

He wonders if his lips will form a word.

“Theseus,” he whispers with unpracticed tongue.

“My brother, come to take my life.”

The Pantheon is littered with the spawn

of venal lust. Poseidon’s whelps, these two.

Though innocent, they bear the tragic stamp,

cursed to be clothed each in the other’s fate.

He waits unmeasured time, unmoving.

In Theseus’ stumbling, halting steps

he hears no plan, just blind wandering

marked here and there by muttered curses.

He moves to intercept the human’s course.

“Theseus, you have come at last.”

“Who speaks with such strange accents?”

Surprise quickens Theseus’ speech.

“You are no Greek who calls me thus.”

“I am the one you seek, Theseus.

The one that you call Minos’ Bull.”

“A monster who can mimic human speech?”

“I am cursed to have a human part,

to be not wholly one thing or another,

but I speak.”

“You speak? Then tell me. Where are the bones?

I thought to find it strewn with bones.

You keep a tidy house.”

“I do not disrespect the dead

that others choose to kill.

I’ve honored them as decency

and circumstance permit.”

For Theseus the hunt is joined. He reaches

toward the voice. His outstretched hand

meets only rough-hewn stone.

“Honor me and tell me how you

come to know my name then, Freak?”

“I have dreamt the smallest detail of this day,

although I laugh to call it day.

But, tell me, is it day or is it night

beyond the gate?”

“There was darkness everywhere when I came in,

but why this talk?

You could be feasting on the flesh

of my compatriots.”

He moves with care,

His fingers on the clammy wall.

“You and all your human cohort

forget who I am.

The beast in me is sickened by

the thought of eating flesh.

You press the worst of yourself

into a mold and call it ‘Monster’

but it is you, just you.

A mirror works as well.”

“I do not eat the flesh of my own kind.”

The Greek’s response is clipped.

He wants the beacon of that other voice

To light his path.

“On this day you will kill your own brother

who you call Beast and Monster.

Do you think the goat or lamb,

the wild bird of the field, the mountain stag

are any less your brethren than I?”

“Brethren? Bah! Your talk is babble, Beast.

I have no brothers.

I am my father’s only child.”

The Bull-man laughs, a strange and fractured laugh.

“Your father cannot keep his girdle tied.

His progeny are spread from Attica

to far-off Tyre.

His blood informs a mighty, ragged tribe.”

“Your pointless riddles bore me, Monster.

Tell me something plain.” His tone is mocking.

“If you do not foul your virtuous lips

with human sacrifice what do you eat?”

“There are roots that break through from above.

I graze on them and . . .” he hesitates

and wonders at the pain of speech that plods

so far behind the lightning of his thoughts.

“I am otherwise provided for.”

“By who? That fornicating beast-lover

you call Mother?”

“Do not provoke me, Theseus, with

your market-place vulgarities.

Poseidon raped my mother

just as he raped yours.”

The voice so close it is as if

the stones beneath his fingers speak,

And yet his way is blocked.

“Aegeus is my father!” Theseus shouts.

“Poseidon is your father

as he is mine.

You forget I am a beast of those

who smell their kin and love them.

We do not stalk our kin and kill them.

Your nose is plugged with fairy-tales.

Breathe for once and try to smell the truth.”

“Enough talk!” The air is hot with Theseus’ rage.

“I’ve come to kill you.

Let me be done with that.”

“You’ve come to set me free.”

“If death is freedom, freedom you shall have,

and so will I the Greek bones here avenge.”

Theseus’ anger makes him careless

and he stumbles once again.

“Your sword is poorly aimed for that blood-task.

The blame you would abate lies higher up.”

“With Minos and his copulating cow?”

“Higher still, my brother.”

It is Minotaur who moves this time,

bringing new acoustics to his speech.

“The gods spill all this blood for their dark sport,

then goad us into spilling more and more.

The killing will not end

until you make yourself. Throw off the stamp

of petty tyrant-gods that you call fate

and recognize your own will is your power.”

Gods tremble when they hear these words.

Their power hangs on ignorance. If such

a tool as Theseus learns to choose his fate

their temples built on faith begin to fall.

Theseus has turned around.

He loses contact with the walls,

trying to assess the vector of the voice.

“Your poetry is touching for a beast

but empty babble to my ear.

What meaning can it have to make myself?

The gods make everything.

We are but their thinking turned to flesh.

Just as now, I think I hear you talking.

This talk I seem to hear from you

is but the crazed imaginings

of a mind twisted by this curséd dark.

I’ll be glad to see the end of this.”

He tries to get a hand on stone

but even that is gone.

“The end of this will not make you glad, Theseus.

Your life, however long, will be for its

full length cursed by what you do this day.”

“Cursed? By what? Killing you?

I’ve killed many in my life.”

He grips his sword hilt.

“You will be but one more.”

“Cursed with truth, my Brother.

Surrounded by the fantasies of others

you will be cursed with truth.”

“So, Beast, you know, too, what is to come?”

“Here in the labyrinth time is naught to me,

past and future all the same

and equal to imagination’s sight.

I see what was and what is to be

with equal clarity.”

Theseus, forced to crawl, has recovered

the comfort of the wall and moves again.

“Entertain me, Beast. Give me some bit

from your vast store of prophecy.”

“Men always wish they knew the future

’til they see it writ . . .”

“Come, Monster, just a sporting hint?”

The Minotaur draws a great breath, a sigh

and says,

“Before you see your Attic soil again

Ariadne, who loves you

beyond all reason, will be left by you,

abandoned on some bleak stretch of beach.

And, too, the one who calls you son will die

because of your own thoughtlessness.”

“You say these things but to provoke my wrath.

I’ll not leave Ariadne!

I have pledged myself to her.”

“Think of the snow that caps

your sacred Mount Olymbos (here

Minotaur stops to savor that

one word so fitting to his tongue and lips).

Your pledge is like that snow,

beautiful to see but try to hold

it in your hands and it is gone.

You will leave Ariadne.

By the sorcery of your own mind you will hear

my voice in hers, my imagined touch

in her touch. My hideous face

will spoil her beauty.

And you will see my death in her eyes.

You will see in her the brother

you have killed. That terrible vision

will haunt you long after

you have left her on the sand.”

“A pox on your stories!

Your mindless rant torments me. Leave it off!

You who’ve spent your whole time in this maze,

what can you know?

Leave me, phantom voice, that I may find

that curséd beast and end this sordid farce.”

Theseus thinks his string will lead him home,

but there’s no turning back from his black deed.

This violent thread, once peeled from the spool,

will not rewind. Its trace is sealed in blood.

Minotaur obliges this demand

and moves with slow deliberation

paralleling Theseus’ stumbling gait

with his sure-footed pace.

His bare feet are his eyes in this dark hall

and quickly find the object that he seeks.

“How fares your clew, Theseus?”

“Leave off, Voice. I told you once,

you’re but an ill imagining.

I hear you not.”

“And this? Is this imagination, too?”

Minotaur picks up the thread he’s found

and gently tugs it taut.

“Tell me, Brother. Does your thread dwindle?”

Theseus is silent long

and when he speaks the first dark wisps

of fear invade his voice.

“Do not call me brother, Beast. It is

your thread that dwindles. You’ll regret

that you spoke thus to me.”

“It is you who will regret who come

to slay a dumb monster and instead

will leave soaked in your brother’s blood.”

“Ariadne wants you dead.”

“Ariadne knows not what she asks,

but wishes only that you live.

She, too, will know the luxury of regret.”

Theseus, his fear near panic, has begun

to gather in the thread that he’s paid out.

He stumbles hard into the unseen walls.

“Whence flew your courage, Greek?

You are right to be afraid

for I can break this thread and end

right now this thing that you call farce.

But, hear me. I will not. Not yet.

You see, Theseus, in far-off Athens

people bow to Aegeus as their king

while, above our heads, in Cretan lands

and on the seas, Minos is the sovereign.

But here in this piteous realm

I am doomed to rule.

My power is not so easily usurped.

You are, my Brother, guest in my dark house.”

The Minotaur relaxes in his place.

He knows that Theseus’ searching nears its end

and harvests comfort from that thought.

“Another thing, Brother, I would have you know.

My mother called me Little Star and

suckled me when I was born,

but later fled in horror from

the signal of her shame.

I have known love, however brief,

and I love you, Brother.

I love all humans though they are a band

that I can never join.

And, too, I pity them that they should fall so short.

I have no place in this world save here.

I will love you more that you deliver

me from this cruel solitude.”

As the Bull-man speaks he senses

his kin drawing near.

He lowers himself to hands and knees

and draws himself to Theseus’ side.

His great horns tangle in among

the folds of Theseus’ robe and gently pull

then slide away as Theseus spins

with wildly swinging sword.

The sound of Theseus’ thundering heart

fills the Bull-man’s ears he is so close.

“Show some courage, man. You mark the lines

of ritual where others not yet born

will step in ages hence. Show them some grace.”

Theseus flails again, his weapon cutting air.

“Do not beat at me like a frightened child.

I am already bled by years of solitude.

You need but make the final cut.”

The Minotaur has bowed his massive head

and Theseus with a desperate lunge

thrusts his sword between the down-curved shoulders.

Plunging through hard-muscled flesh and bone

the knowing tip seeks out the beating heart

as Theseus collapses to the floor.

His quivering thighs are bathed in blood as

his brother’s massive head sinks to his lap.

In Minotaur’s exhaled breath the smell,

sweet-sour, of fermented grass recalls

to Theseus a childhood vision of

a flower-strewn field and a sand-rimmed stretch

of passive sea. A sharp pain grips his heart

as he hears Ariadne’s voice

praying to the gods to save his life.

J. Lee Strickland is a freelance writer and poet living in upstate New York. In addition to fiction, he has written extensively on the subjects of rural living, modern homesteading and voluntary simplicity both online and for various print publications. He is a member of the Mohawk Valley Writers’ Group and is currently at work on a novel drawing upon his experiences as a youth in the anthracite coal strip-mining area of northeast Pennsylvania.

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