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"Ink-Song"

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Evandre

The Amazon queen gave orders
     for her crew
          to spread across King Priam's hall,
and so,
    dark-eyed Harmothoe sits,
          wrapped in Trojan robes,
          hooded by a Trojan snood,
          prying secrets
               from the women
               in her infiltrated group,
and so,
     flame-haired Polemousa sits,
          upright and awkward,
     surrounded by young men
          who style themselves as suitors,
and so,
     bald-shaven Evandre sits
          at the table of Trojan priests and elders,
     and recites,
          at their request,
her ink-song:
     the lines and symbols from her earliest years,
          what was once a square,
          what was once a pig,
          what was once a dancing girl,
               together stretched by growth
               into blots of augry,
     the tribal mark from her womanhood ceremony,
          a blank circle within a dark triangle,
               at the crown of her hair-shorn head,
     marks from each turning of the year since then,
          the weasel,
          the tigress,
          the pine,
          the boar,
          three rocks,
          the ship,
          the liver of an enemy,
               together counting her age to nineteen,
     her marks of accomplishment and rank,
          of riding,
          of racing,
          of journeys,
     and the still-blank spaces
          she plans to fill
               over whatever future years
               the gods allow.

Her dining companions
     strain forward with interest,
     eyes following each mark
          to the next
          to the next
     across Evandre's body.

"Fascinating,"
     says Ilioneus,
          of the much-respected
          elder council,
"although I had asked you
     about prayers,
     not art."

"Our prayers are our deeds,"
     says Evandre.
"We illustrate our deeds with ink,
     and describe our ink in song.
We are,
     all of us,
          priestesses
     within the temple of our skin."

"I want tattoos!"
     announces the boy,
          Ascanius.

"Ask your father,"
     laughs his grandfather,
          Anchises.

"So you build no temples
     of brick and mortar?"
High Priest Laocoön asks.

"We have one such,"
     says Evandre
          in a tone
          that invites
          no further prying for details.
"On ordinary days we use
     whatever shrines
          best fit on the back of a horse."

     Cheerless Antenor
          who arranges the funeral pyres
     is moved to fits of laughter.
"You pray
     to the backside of a horse?"

The Amazon tries her best
     to follow her queen's order
     to tolerate the ignorance
          of the Trojan barbarians
          with shrugs and smiles,
     but still,
     a frown breaks through.
"That is not what I said."

In the lull that follows,
     Evandre looks away 
          to the king's table,
          to Penthesileia,
               who,
               for a moment,
          sits up
               with a familiar start
               with a familiar wince
          as if to the sound of howling
     that only she can hear.

"The monsters,"
     Laocoön notes,
          seeing the same movement.

Evandre drops her jaw
     at the holy man.
"You hear them
     as she does?"

The high priest shakes his head.
     "Not tonight,
          but sometimes,
          with a wind from the south,
     from deep within the caverns
          under the barren island
          off the coast of Calynda,
     those who are sensitive
          can hear the calls
          of the reptilian scions
          of Typhon and Echidna
     as they howl and scream
     for the blood
          of those who would reveal
          the secrets of the gods.
Or so it has been said."

"Stop it, Father,"
     laughs Laocoön's eldest son.
"You'll scare the ink right off of her."

"You'll make her hair stand on end,"
     teases the younger son.

Evandre rubs her smooth head.
     "No dragons of Calynda
          would dare
          to threaten my queen.
     The only monsters
          who call to Penthesileia
          are the ones she brought here,
               at her back,
          from our Scythian homeland."

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