The Lament of Pheidippides 

 

{from behind the bench: another one of the lamentations here. haven’t done one of these in a loooooong time. in case you haven’t read one of them before, or in awhile, it’s a series where I take the voices of people who never got to speak in the history books and imagine what they might of said. also give them various awful personality issues to work through, because why not.

also because you can’t not watch the new york city marathon. based in part on Robert Browning’s 1879 poem. ~acb}

At Marathon, the spears lay shattered.

There are no swords left sharp, dull blade drip.

Persia perished and the horses poorly bridled,

reins loose and saddles slipped beneath

the distended bellies of sweating beasts.

Our men have not eaten since the morning before last.

There are more of us than them left, listless but living.

Dare the cry of victory? Dare the dead be worth such sorrow?

Go tell the city that they may twine the wreaths of laurel,

welcome sons with purple linen and sweet myrtle smoke.

And as I run:

Will the women weep when they see me?

What news of sorrow or of solace do I bring?

Do the Persian messengers run as fast as I,

with the news they bring?

And as I run:
this is the country unbent by bows.

Our own horses graze here, unbroken by war.

Here are the acorns that our pigs root out, and then we slaughter them.

Here are the streams we drown our daughters in, when we do not want them.

Only gods know what kind of luck they bring.

I do not think of women often, but I feel them more.

My feet find the soil the same way.

I do not know if the motherland is like the one who birthed me.

I try not to bruise her beneath my feet to tell of victory alone.

And as I run:

my noble mother’s bended neck

and the wide white arms of my sister;

my lover’s hands hold fragrant herbs for fish and lamb,

and hot thoughts of twisted legs of prostitutes I visit;

linen veils that hide asking eyes

and draped hips in the cobbled street,

hear my panted cry:

Your sons and husbands are not slain,

their blood was not blood shed in vain,

no father crippled for cripple’s sake.

Our wives and daughters lie alone, awake—

the god of war did not find meet

to defeat us, in their defeat.

So roast the feral pig with new-picked apples,

let loose the hounds to greet their masters.

Wash the linens and put flowers in your unpinned hair.

If you have lost a man, do not despair.

Your city has been saved but for a soul.

And as I run:

The city is in sight,

the temples and the taverns that I know.

Look, it stands as good as gold.

And as I run:

too close, confusion.

Is this my mother’s house?
This is where I once choked my sister for speaking.

I played in this green as a boy.

I cannot find the thoroughfare—

but the white steps are there.

Gleaming sun shoots through the smoke as they pray,

prayers answered with falling footsteps and ragged breath.

The legs that move are not my own, the chest that heaves unknown.

Stumble, crawl, the limp that only now I notice,

feet that do not fail me despite ankles swollen stiff.

How far have I come for this.

The final burst, and save my sins, all is known.

We have won.

Then the terrible pause, the rustle of white wool.

To a man, the assembly stands. The messenger falls.

The breath has left him.

Feet caked in blood and boils,

dirt deep in the crevices of skin,

wet with sweat,

bloodshot eyes still wide and straining neck

that will not let the life ease out.

No sister to kiss the eyelids shut.

The victory and the grief, the grief and the victory.

How to mourn a man who had a heart that could not save him,

nor a woman neither.

All motion, then all quiet.

Not one save the soil saw how he flew.

© 2017 Anna-Christina Betekhtin, All Rights Reserved.

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