A.E. Stallings: "Three Poems to Psyche"





The Eldest Sister to Psyche


This palace, those invisible hands

That stroke the music from thin air,

Call it magic:  everywhere

The haunted rooms obey commands,

And yet it sounds like loneliness.

Yes, I’m that ugly sister, true,

You’ll say I only envy you.

The fact—I know your secret guess—

Surrendered blind to his embrace,

You dared not look.  A human voice,

You thought.   You never had a choice.

Perhaps a monster, face to face,

With scales and fangs and leathern wings.

What of the fetus that you carry?

For certain it is human?  Very?

Doubt burns like hot wax; it stings.


Doubt burns.  Like hot wax, it stings.

For certain, it is human, very.

What of the fetus that you carry,

With scales and fangs and leathern wings

Perhaps?  A monster.  Face to face,

You thought you never had a choice,

You dared not.  Look, a human voice

Surrendered blind to his.  Embrace

The fact.  I know your secret.  Guess

You’ll say I only envy you.

Yes I’m that ugly, Sister True,

And yet...  It sounds like loneliness,

The haunted rooms.  Obey commands:

Call it magic.  Everywhere,

That stroke, the music.  From thin air,

This palace, those invisible hands.



The Boatman to Psyche, on the River Styx


          “But I have one last errand for you, my poppet.” 

                              —Apuleius, The Golden Ass



Only a few have come here still alive,

Heroes seeking immortality,

Lovers who refuse to grieve.


They are found out by gravity,

How they unbalance the scow

With one foot still on the quay


And the other stepping into the prow

While evil-smelling bilge comes seeping

Up through the planks, as it is doing now.


The sorry hound is usually sleeping

(Three heads, no brain),

But his job is keeping


The inmates in.  He has no reason

To keep the living out.

All will come here in their own sweet season.


Perhaps you thought

No one would notice you among so many,

But you are not the shadow of a doubt,


You are the thing itself.  Your shiny penny

Will pay your passage, though it should be double.

You are two if you are any—


You quibble?

Aren’t you a double tug upon

The earth, and twice the trouble?


Gravid girl, you’re far gone.

I feel the quickening,

Obscene here where all frenzy is done,



A thing like that, a specter that looms

Out of the queasy future, ticking and ticking


Like a kind of bomb.

An x-ray developing in your chemical bath,

Your dark room.


You wonder how a blind man finds his path

Over the swamp of hate,

The river of wrath?


My eyes are ultrasound.  I echolocate

Like the pipistrelles that drop

Their slick of guano on the sloping slate—


Treacherous footing.   Here’s our stop.

So, you’re on an errand to the Queen,

To borrow her beauty like a pot of make-up.


It’s true that she has stayed just seventeen:

The sun can’t spoil her looks—

Her lips are stained with grenadine.


And here there are only stopped clocks

And no reflections.  A hint:

If she gives you a wooden box


Yea big—scarcely big enough for an infant—

Don’t open it, though you crave

A peek, a free sample.  You say you won’t,


But the living have a flair for narrative.

What if I tell you all the beauty ever worn

By loveliness was borrowed from the grave


And belongs to the unborn?



Persephone to Psyche


Come sit with me here at the bar.

Another Lethe for the bride.

You’re pregnant?  Well, of course you are!

Make that a Virgin Suicide.


Me and my man, we tried a spell,

A pharmacopeia of charms,

And yet…  When I am lonesome, well,

I rock the still-borns in my arms.


This place is dead—a real dive.

We’re past all twists, rewards and perils.

But what the hell.  We all arrive.

Here, have some pomegranate arils.


I heard an old wive’s tale above

When I was a girl with a girl’s treasure.

The story went, Soul married Love

And they conceived, and called her Pleasure.


In Anhedonia we take

Our bitters with hypnotic waters.

The dawn’s always about to break

But never does.  We dream of daughters.



A. E. Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published two books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award, and Hapax (2006). Her recent verse translation of Lucretius, The Nature of Things, is published by Penguin Classics.