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"No Man Touches Her"

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"No man touches her!"

     These words of Achilles
     reach Iphis
          in her hut
          on the edge of the promontory
               where she lives now,
               away from the Achaean camp,
               away from the company
     of the other enslaved women.

"No man touches her!"

     A reminder that her life continues
          even as she tends to the needs of a master
               who resides within a tomb.

When Patroclus lived,
     Iphis was his woman
          not because she wanted to be,
          but because Achilles said it was so,
          and because the word of Achilles
               animated every breath and movement
               of his beloved Patroclus.

It was becoming harder to remember those days now,
     when Briseis was her companion,
     when a living Patroclus was her obligation,
     with Achilles looming over them all,

"No man touches her!"

     and harder still to remember the days before,
          when she was a princess in Phrygian Hyllos,
          when that city was still called Hyllos
               before Achilles arrived
               leading three thousand men.

He had been so giddy,
     this young Phthian conqueror,
          in her father's throne room,
          on her father's throne,
          with her father,
               prostrate before him,
          with her three brothers,
               prostrate before him,
               flanked by Myrmidon warriors.
"I have never conquered a city before,"
     Achilles had said.
          "This shall be my first,
               Ilion shall be my last,
            and in between,
     shall be a dozen of lesser importance."

"We will pay tribute to the Achaeans,"
     her once-proud father had pledged.
          "Our grain,
          our orchards,
          our livestock,
          our fowl
     shall henceforth supply the army of Agamemnon.
You will have my pledge of peace and loyalty,
          Lord Achilles,
on behalf of all men of Hyllos,
     if you leave us now to tend our wounded."

The boy-warrior had grown angry at that.
     "I dictate the terms, old man!"
     And pacing around the hall,
"This city shall henceforth be called Skyros.
     And you henceforth shall be called Deidamia,
     And you henceforth shall be called Deidamia,
     And you henceforth shall be called Deidamia,"
          he'd said to a progression of trembling maidens,
          until each disappointed him in some small way,
               to be discarded for the next.

But Iphis
     was never to be called Deidamia.
     She kept her name
          as she lost her freedom,
          as she was presented to Patroclus
                    by Achilles
     on the occasion of his birthday.
"Become a man today, brother,"
     Achilles had said,
          in the midst of a drunken celebratory stupor.
"But do not call this one Deidamia.
     It would be awkward
          to find you sleeping with my wife!"

"No man touches her!"

     drops her head
          in sorrow,
     the life she might have had,
the life that's been erased.
"I will serve this man until one of us dies,
     I once thought,
          but how naive
     to think that even the death of Patroclus
     would free me from my bondage.
I remain enslaved
     to a dead man
by the whim
     of a monster."


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