Helen of Troy


helen of troy’s turn to judge

much later, when the clothes were washed and dried,
three women came in their nakedness so i could choose
from among them the most beautiful. i should say


the cat had just pissed on the carpet, our old cat,
a fighting tom come in from the wars, and so when
the women found me i was hunched on my knees


pressing paper towels into the shag, the bright crack
of ammonia through the air like a train whistle.
i wasn’t afraid. the women no longer looked like me,


so i no longer longed to hurt them for it. i should say
that by then the world was already dead, my brothers
and cousins, the boys i knew at school: a great cloud


that lowered itself across the tobacco, threw its shanks
against the window glass, opened the earth
in short dark rips. it’s best to put pressure where


the pool is deepest, push your hand down firmly
while the gold siphons away, a warm dripping pad
you can bag and disappear. the women were holding


small white boxes, and the lid of each box spelled out
what was inside in a language without subtlety or art.
knowledge. power. sex, this last picked out in rubies


and sapphires, a script that shimmered with a strange
inner heat, baking the room, unmaking it. the cat leapt
to the kitchen table to bat the surface with unsheathed


claws. if there is a mystery about which box was chosen,
i apologize. i should have said more. i should have said
that music rose from the third box in sweeping arias,


that the smell of sea air and thunderstorms rolled
from beneath the lid. i should have said that i knew
the box because it was mine, given to me as a young girl


and kept safe beneath my bed ever since. i was angry.
i wanted her bleeding, the woman who had stolen from me,
who wore a face that was familiar the way a mountain


is familiar, loved so long it softens into background blur.
i yanked the box from her hands, but she wouldn’t let go.
we held it together, she and i, our fingers stroking


beneath the base. she seemed glad to share the load.
it was a heavy box; i’d forgotten the heft of it, the way
it dragged at the lower spine, like a tumor or a baby.


i wondered if she’d ever looked inside. the woman, was she
beautiful? it hardly mattered. she’d already turned away,
studying the view with a jeweler’s eye: the empty yard,


the empty drive, the cat-killed sparrow dragged to the stoop.


helen of troy runs to piggly wiggly

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