The Cypresses of Athens
Tourists haunt placarded groves as though
immortals puzzled equally by loss
and what endures in this ruin rich ground.
Longer acquaintance might let me name
these sparse, rain-starved trees:
there Agave, blinded by a god,
who tore her son apart with her revelers
when he spied on them, unable to believe
reason could not conquer passion:
there Plato, followed by students
who fail to see how all these are copies
of one perfect Cypress no one can find
that yet embodies seedbud to mature tip,
withered tree to one wrapped in the green
flag of its foliage:
there Oedipus, who died holy though
his children were his sisters and brothers,
buried nearby under streets where taxis
cheat the unwary,
his crimes all efforts to avoid his fate,
that force we make come true.
That cypress whose green is nearly black
is a priest who beheaded old gods:
that a Turk who holds his robes against the wind,
while next to him Byron
who died, despite his irony, for Greece
twists upwards below this severe light.
One day a descendant of mine wandering here
may name some cypress in turn:
‘Ah! there’s Lance! He always wanted
to balance passion with reason,
desire with desire’s loss,
his life with his death in a tense balance
like one of these cypresses
who thrust out green shoots against their withering,
defiant to the end’.
I wander in their shade as the light pours down;
its brilliant rain ignites a newer jet of green
to replace each that fails and falls
to this parched, incendiary ground.