Cadmus gazes at Thebes in ruins

By Penel Alden

Horror held me in place 
Held my arms at my ribs 
Wide thirsty nostrils clutching for the air 
Throat and soul gaping and parched 
As the ash rises and falls like dark feathers 

My daughter, in the palace of her son, 
The shadows on her face falling terror, all wrong 
Her eyes shaded glass gazing towards heaven

Already the great city had begun to burn 
Not even Thebes can grow bones strong enough 
To wage war against fate 
And the ivory structures of our grandsons 
Are now mere offerings to flame and carrion bird 

Behind me the cool breeze from the forest 
Is the last of the breath of the Maenads 
Their hymns offered to a void I cannot see 
Their torn flesh the body of the trees

Now the smoke is punctuated by crows 
And in their frenzied piercing prayers 
Is the song of the gods in their violent ecstasy 
Gloating over the vanity of man


Penel Alden is a mediocre and degenerate academic living on California’s central coast. Her recent poetry has appeared in Sierra Nevada Review, California Quarterly, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and in her forthcoming collection, California (Kelsay Books, 2021).

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