The Rock of Sibyl at Delphi
A Poem in Three Acts
How, then, shall I sing of you who are a worthy theme of song?
Shall I sing how at the first Leto bore you to be the joy of men…
…whence arising you rule over all mortal men?
-- Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo
The Oracle is this:
a question asked by a traveler of distances
thinned air, valley open, mountain erect
pitted answer stoned, an entanglement of dust.
Somewhere a meteor once hurtled
perhaps the remains of a red nova or worse --
a planet torn apart much like ours.
Slowly cooling through billions of slices
then breaking up to just the right size -- woman sized --
landing while a river slow itched this valley
crystals creeping, volcanic magma filtering upwards inflected
fingers of smoke venting, charged air
chthonic touching the inner lip of a cave til the valley
like a catcher's glove sucked in the rock. After all, delphys means womb.
They say Sibyl arrived from Anatolia, red-earthed
thirsty with serpents. She welcomed the volcanic fumes
they reminded her of home. At the north side of the cave
she curled a bed for her snakes, by the pool started a hearth
an aniconic heap of charcoal glowing her omphalos
alive in white ash, a center for family and clan gatherings.
Then she stood on the rock. At first, her words came out
ponderable infused by the stone's deep labor but she breathed in
pneuma and venom, risked sheddings, and spoke --
of childbirth and health, the moon and earth
of modesty, receptivity, abandoning what you do not know.
Let the beauty you love be what you do
To go beyond self, you must know yourself gnothi sauton
before death, during death
-- even after death.
People gathered like aeolian harps called her sios
meaning god, boul meaning counsel. Siboul.
They learned her language. They didn't put down
her words. Their lives were better.
They say sailors from Crete crossed with men's ways.
The draw being Apollo who ordered his temple to be built
ignoring the large rock. He killed Pythia, engendered Delphi
in a forgotten language through his counselor, encaved, in cuffs
three-legged over vapors tracing up from the Earth.
She would utter deranged things translated twisted down
by his priests, paltered noddings about
battles and wars, marriage and children
kleos aphthiton, of glory and gory
meden agan nothing in excess.
To heighten the enigma, they induced her stupor by burning
barley grains, hemp, and laurel leaves over an oil lamp.
The herbs, then laid on hot ashes of charcoal produced
narcotic clouds for Pythian Apollo --
Apollo Smintheus god of prophecy and healing
from the Cretan word sminthos meaning mouse, a prophylactic
against the plague, rotting corpses, and sudden invasions
of mice which snakes kill
but only if any snakes were left.
They say Delphi is the center of the Earth
that Zeus let fly two eagles and they met here.
When Apollo was birthed at Delos, Hera sent Python
to chase Leto below ground like a mouse. She was jealous.
How long did it take to bring this triforia together,
this confluence of valley, smoke and stone? And why --
among structures in shadow, telluric sight, strands of sounds --
didn't anyone ask her what she was saying?
Like the truth, the rock still stands.
Apollo was borne to ruins.