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  • By Glenn Wright

The Death of Agamemnon

My handmaiden mixes crushed chalk and white lead

with olive oil and honey, then dabs it gently

onto my face. I become a ghost.

I tell her to prepare perfumed hot water

for her master’s bath. She bows and leaves.

I wait alone and let my heart and lungs

slow their fluttering, close my eyes and see

the fatal path that led me to this moment.

My daughter, Iphigenia, comes to haunt me,

dressed in wedding garments stained with blood.

The men had left to board the ships for Troy,

and steal back my wayward sister, Helen.

My husband sent word our daughter was to marry

Achilles in Aulis. Should I bring her dowry?

Thirteen years old. I’d hoped to have her with me

at least another year. I should have known.

We could not sail; there was no wind that summer.

Oppressive heat made travel by cart a torture.

At last, coming through a rocky pass, we saw

the gleaming ocean, ships and tents and men.

No eye met mine as we entered the camp, no bridegroom.

My husband came to embrace us, so I thought,

but rough hands pulled me away from my daughter’s side

and stuffed a gag in my mouth to stop my screams.

My daughter, confused, still smiling, was led away.

I saw a blindfold lashed around her face.

She took a few more steps, then cried for me.

They picked her up and carried her to the altar.

Later they told me that Artemis had saved her,

carried her off before the axe could fall

on her sweet, virgin neck. Was it the truth?

Whether by death or distance, she was gone.

My husband had been willing to kill our daughter

for wind. I prayed the gods to keep him living

and bring him back to me after the war.

Ten years, and he returned, with raving Cassandra,

whose sister, Polyxena, had to die

to purchase a wind to blow them back to Greece.

I thought it best to keep Aegisthus hidden

until I needed him for the sacrifice.

I watch him ease into the steaming water.

I dismiss the servants, and bring Aegisthus out,

who paws me to enrage old Agamemnon.

I pull the axe from his hand, and with a prayer

to the goddesses abused by selfish men,

I swing the axe and drive it deep into

my husband’s skull. Cassandra rushes in,

sees the blood, and prophesies my doom.

“You have given birth to your destruction!

Your daughter and son will end your life and that

of him with whom you defiled your husband’s bed.”

Aegisthus took the axe; I’d not have harmed her,

although her meek acceptance of her fate

infuriated me. He brought it down

and killed her. I consecrated her sacrifice

to the pitiless gods and goddesses below.

Glenn Wright is a retired teacher living in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife, Dorothy, and their dog, Bethany.  He writes poetry in order to challenge what angers him, to ponder what puzzles him, and to celebrate what delights him.

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