They said that all the old gods had died,
and a strange, plaintive voice had been heard
announcing the death from the mountains down to the sea.
But I came to Delphi to see for myself,
on a bus of those who spoke barbaric tongues,
those not troubled by any absence of gods,
coming here with guide books for the art,
a fixed location set on a visible map.
While their eyes adjusted to read the museum descriptions,
they could not see the athletes run in the games,
who offered thanks scratched on a bronze cup,
who knew that they were their own victory ode.
I had come here hoping for some revelation --
not the sight of the sacred oracle breathing
the hissing vapors that seep from the grave of the snake
Apollo conquered, but the light on a cenotaph,
the black earth turned at the olive's roots,
the dust on our feet like that on the feet of the god.
The shifting clot of busy visitors
filled the eating places as sunlight faded,
and were served by slim boys carrying baskets
of warm bread to their tables, recent arrivals
themselves from the Greek-speaking diaspora
to new world cities, sent back home for a summer
to reconnect, and smiling like the statues
displayed nearby, the ones with enameled eyes.
I waited alone, sipping a bottle of water,
for the bus and the long road to return me to Athens.
And suddenly -- and suddenly -- the god
was there, his head thrown back, laughing
and looking into my eyes as if in a trance.
I knew you can catch only a glimpse of a god,
and then he is gone, just as now he was gone.
Is the holy only whatever it is we can call
it in words, the power that we encounter?
His eyes contained a power that never forgives.
As I sat in the bus, students lined the aisles,
singing, and passing each other cigarettes,
as the sky darkened a rich, Persian color.
A woman beside me asked: "Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
and helped me count out the correct fare in coins.
I complimented her German, but where had she learned it?
"Hier, um neunzehn-hundert-zwei-und-vierzig."
Her eyes showed the things she could never forgive,
the invisible memories that flickered to life:
the young, blond soldiers, floating down
from the clouds, bringing fire from heaven,
on their raw silk parachutes, as the gods departed.
Through the window we saw a comet's tresses
drag across the shimmering heavens that night,
as we said what can not be said or revealed to others,
what stops up our mouths, the murmuring,
the jaw and throat packed with stones,
worn smooth by the flow of an ancient river,
just as the sudden surprise of beholding us
as we are that made the old gods stop speaking.
Royal Rhodes is a retired educator. His poetry has appeared in various literary journals, including: Last Stanza, Ekstasis, Lothlorien Poetry, Cholla Needles, Allegro, Dreich, and The Montreal Review. His poetry and art collaborations have been published by The Catbird [on the Yadkin] Press in North Carolina.