For Branchus, Beloved of Apollo the Affectionate

by Karl Kirchwey

In the Sanctuary at Didyma, nothing is left
      but an unimportant laurel bush
where the oracle once squatted over the earth’s cleft,
      inhaled the fumes, and in a rush
babbled her nonsense to the recording priest
      who wrote it down in perfect hexameters.
So I crouched in the silky dust
      and plucked two leaves of unequal size,
the larger one to keep for myself
      and the smaller one to send to you,
because poets are like that, competitive
      and grudging even in the presence of Apollo.
Nor did my theft escape scrutiny,
      for she, leaning against a column,
said, “Looking for a little inspiration, eh?”
      and seeing me flush with shame,
added, “That’s okay, I won’t tell.”
      And we stood for a moment like this,
while griffin and lyre and scroll
      repeated themselves in a broken frieze.
I keep that green-gold leaf in an envelope:
      its dried oils have begun to flake.
You used yours to flavor a soup.
      And she is silent as long as I speak.

For more of Karl Kirchwey’s poems, subscribe to the print editon of Parnassus, Volume 33.

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