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HELEN TEUCER: . . . in sea-girt Cyprus, where it was decreed by Apollo that I should live, giving the city the name of Salamis in memory of my island home. HELEN: I never went to Troy; it was a phantom. SERVANT: What? You mean it was only for a cloud that we struggled so much? EURIPIDES, HELEN* "The nightingales won't let you sleep in Platres."* Shy nightingale, in the breathing of the leaves, you who bestow the forest's musical coolness on the parted bodies, on the souls of those who know they will not return. Blind voice, you who grope in the darkness of memory for footsteps and gestures—I wouldn't dare say kisses— and the bitter raging of the slavewoman grown wild. "The nightingales won't let you sleep in Platres." Platres: where is Platres? And this island: who knows it? I've lived my life hearing names I've never heard before: 185 new countries, new idiocies of men or of the gods; my fate, which wavers between the last sword of some Ajax and another Salamis, brought me here, to this shore. The moon rose from the sea like Aphrodite, covered the Archer's stars, now moves to find the Heart of Scorpio, and changes everything. Truth, where's the truth? I too was an archer in the war; my fate: that of a man who missed his target. Lyric nightingale, on a night like this, by the shore of Proteus, the Spartan slave girls heard you and began their lament, and among them—who would have believed it?—Helen! She whom we hunted so many years by the banks of the Scamander. She was there, at the desert's lip; I touched her; she spoke to me: "It isn't true, it isn't true," she cried. "I didn't board the blue-bowed ship. I never went to valiant Troy." High-girdled, the sun in her hair, and that stature shadows and smiles everywhere, on shoulders, thighs, and knees; the skin alive, and her eyes 186 with the large eyelids, she was there, on the banks of a Delta. And at Troy? At Troy, nothing: just a phantom image. The gods wanted it so. And Paris, Paris lay with a shadow as though it were a solid being; and for ten whole years we slaughtered ourselves for Helen. Great suffering descended on Greece. So many bodies thrown into the jaws of the sea, the jaws of the earth* so many souls fed to the millstones like grain. And the rivers swelling, blood in their silt, all for a linen undulation, a bit of cloud, a butterfly's flicker, a swan's down, an empty tunic—all for a Helen. And my brother? Nightingale nightingale nightingale, what is a god? What is not a god? And what is there inbetween them? "The nightingales won't let you sleep in Platres." Tearful bird, on sea-kissed Cyprus consecrated to remind me of my country, I moored alone with this fable, if it's true that it is a fable, 18 j if it's true that mortals will not again take up the old deceit of the gods; if it's true that in future years some other Teucer, or some Ajax or Priam or Hecuba, or someone unknown and nameless who nevertheless saw a Scamander overflow with corpses, isn't fated to hear newsbearers coming to tell him that so much suffering, so much life, went into the abyss all for an empty tunic, all for a Helen. 188 ...


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