A.E. Stallings

Verge: Sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron

(a prayer for daughters)


For Myrto and Atalanta


τάς τε κόρας, Λιμνᾶτι, κόρᾳ κόρα, ὡς ἐπιεικές


Day-trip from Athens, on a day

Too fine for anyone to stay


Within the walls—and so we splurge

On time and gas, to river’s verge,


Where columns, reconstructed, stand

On tiptoes on the boggy land:


Cracked capitals—the nests of sparrows,

That, newly fledged, shoot forth like arrows


Into the blue—hold mostly pure

Empyrean entablature;


The stoa sometimes seems to stretch

Both upwards, and below the vetch,


In pools by wispy cirrus troubled

In which their fluted drums are doubled.


No one stands guard, or catalogues

The visitors, but belching frogs,


And from tall reeds we hear the words,

Though untranslatable, of birds.


The girls, our daughters, on the verge

Of growing up, up hillsides surge


In search of—climbing, pinecones, flowers,

Footholds, skinned knees, superpowers?


They’re near the age when other girls

Dedicated severed curls,


A tambourine or headband, ball

And brazen mirror, favorite doll,


And sometimes even jeweled rings,

Leaving behind their childish things


For Artemis, who never crosses

Age’s sill of gains and losses.


This realm of Artemis, this pool,

This temple, is just vestibule:


No mortal stays forever there,

But passes through, as “little bear.”


It is a simile that rubs

Both ways—see how they climb like cubs,


And how, on two feet, nothing wild

So much resembles a girl child!


Here in this sanctuary, here

Dropped in this spring that still springs clear,


Archaeologists have found

Bronze mirrors, toys, and jewelry drowned,


Where now, our muddy-footed daughters

Poke with sticks the tad-poled waters


Here Mneso offers, may you bless,

The votive of this frog-green dress.


The moment that seems, like the spring,

From stillness sprung, is on the wing,


As dragonflies—which are instead

Of jaded green, carnelian red


And hang like ornaments that stopped

Mid-air the instant they were dropped


Into the pool—seem in no hurry,

And yet they’re beating wings are blurry


With all the work of staying still,

As water weeps and flows downhill.


The two friends want of course to stay

A little longer. Call it play,


This state of being, outside time,

When it is not yet work to climb.


Goddess of girlhood, hear my prayer

For her, and my own, little bear:


Lady of wilderness, grant that she

May dwell here long and happily


Before she leaves these hills for good

And crosses into womanhood,


(That busy city, where we go

With fretful list and task in tow),


Leave in her something else, unnamed,

Untrammeled, liminal, untamed.