Young Girl's Prayer to Eos, at Corinth

I pray to rosy-fingered dawn,
the goddess Eos,
for a good day. Today
especially, I need the luck.

I call her mama.
She calls me daughter,
and other endearments:
my little ransom, my lock
of golden ram-fleece,
my little vindication.

My real name a murmur only
as she prays for herself and for me,
to the floor-crack goddess
whose name is contagion
to even utter aloud.

The old nurse Iole calls her "mistress,"
and fears her tantrums,
her whip-snaps over rusty water
or herbs picked in haste
without their medicinal roots.
Yet mama takes counsel
from the only countrywoman she has
among these Attic strangers.
What would she do if Iole
were not there to hold her back?
I dread to think it.

Only papa calls her by name --
always a trembling vocative
as though she were a goddess,
each glance or word or embrace
a begged-for beneficence.
As it should be,
considering our lineage,
daughters of kings.

Just days ago he called to me.
I ran to meet him. Beware
your mother, he warned me.
When her eyes go all black
the way they do most every day now,
I want you to run and hide.

Of course I didn’t.
I do the eye thing, too,
but not as well as my mother does.

Just yesterday, beneath the oak,
on the hilltop in view of the palace
mama and I made a little hecatomb,
and as she watched and said the words,
I burned the effigy of the king,
and a blond-haired doll
to represent his daughter.

And papa? I asked,
thrusting the helmeted doll
head first into the twig-fire,
shall we burn papa?

She seized the doll and squeezed it.
No, she said. Not papa.
And she held it to her bosom,
eyes closed and rocking,
so long that I crept away.
Let me never love anyone
if it hurts that much!

Another day, Eos:
promise me the dawn
of tomorrow, and all will be well.
For this is the day
of my initiation: the world below,
and the one above both joined
in a terrible drama.

And here it comes: she is calling us.
Children, children, come!
I tremble and look at my brother.
She is at the doorway,
her eyes all black, her arms
extended rigidly.
Darker, lower, her voice again:
Children, children come! Now!
I push my brother,
the golden-locked fool. You first,
I say. He runs to her embrace.
I watch what she does.
It is over quickly, as with a chicken
or a hare. Come daughter,
come! she beckons me.

I step over my brother. It is my turn.
My eyes go to Hecate. I lift
my throat and take in my grasp
my mama’s trembling knife hand.

I know I am there. I know
a crimson ribbon is leaving me
and flooding everywhere.
I hear the howl of a man.
It is papa. He has seen it.
I hear the long, low laughter
as mama mocks him.

In a while I will do
what mama taught me.
My eyes will return from Hecate,
and the ribbon of my blood
will furl back inward,
and I shall be whole again.

Who asks for this day, Eos,
and for another dawn tomorrow?
I am Medea, daughter of Medea.
And my daughter who comes after
will be Medea, daughter of Medea.
And we will make men sorry
they were ever born.


  1. Without being familiar with the references, the poem is incomprehensible. Alas!

  2. Tom, see the link to a production of "Medea" on my Facebook page. Your life is not complete until you have seen Robinson Jeffers adaptation of Medea.


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