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"Gossip Among the Echionai"

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Day upon day, as the past moon turned,
     over their nimble-weaving fingers,
     over their clucking wine-soaked tongues,
the Echionai have discussed the plague.
     Which houses were newly quarantined?
     Which others soon would be?
     And how had each ill fate been earned?
Mother's weaving circle never doubted
     that all sickness follows
         a forgotten sacrifice,
         a disrespected ancestor,
         or even just a jealous thought.
The guilty awaken with
     Poseidon's Revenge in their lungs.
     Red spots from the poisoned arrows of Apollo.
     Shivers from the touch of Artemis.
     Weak limbs, sapped of all strength
         by Zeus
         or by Ares
         or by some daimon yet unnamed.
The Echionai whisper of certain scions of Udaius
     who've earned Hera's wrath
         through scandalous lapses of their marriage vows.
In Echion's Ward, in Echionoi households,
     servants have been the most heavily afflicted.
Their suffering is confined
         to storage rooms,
         to quarterhouses,
         to nooks of all kinds.
So that none outside the oikos ever need see
         their pustules and quavering limbs.
When Mother entertains these days,
     I bring the food.
         I pour the wine.
             I carry away the empty plates.
                 I fill my jars with Niobe's tears.
Mother explains that the servants are busy,
         and thanks the gods
         for giving her
         such a dutiful daughter.
While her Echionai friends
         share their thin-lipped smiles.
     gesture with their nimble fingers.
         cluck their wine-soaked tongues
             at me
every time Mother's back is turned.


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