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.