And (and AND!), on further thought after the first post this morning, I realized there is one more poem I’ve written to (or about, or as) Hadrian in the past that might be suitable for the occasion today. It’s something that may have been said by him in his mourning for Antinous, or even in those short moments of doubt after his death when he had still not seen Antinous revealed in his divine glory. I thought of the title first, and then the concept solidified, and I used the five lines of Hadrian’s epitaph, “Animula Vagula Blandula,” in reverse order (and translated!) as the first line and epigraph of five sections of the poem. It is both based on the fact that Hadrian may have been subject to damnatio memoriae had Antoninus Pius not insisted he be deified; and also the writing of Julian the Apostate when he critiqued the notion of Antinous’ divinity. The title itself is a paraphrase of a work by Erasmus of Rotterdam, on a particular pope (Julius) being excluded from paradise after his death; the theme, of course, is similar.
This poem will be published later this year in Scarlet Imprint’s second anthology of esoteric poetry, Mandragora, along with an essay I’ve written, and a ton of other wonderful poetic and essay submissions by loads of brilliant and beautiful people–many of whom I know personally! So, I’m looking forward to that. I honestly think this was one of the best poems I’ve written in the last few years, and thus I’m glad it is the one they chose to include, even though I had hoped to have a few other of my favorites published in there as well–but, I’m perfectly happy to take what I’ve been given in this regard. Meanwhile, here it is!
“…and I will not make my usual jokes…”
There are whispers of damnation,
there are murmurs that I will be forgotten
before the altar of Roma herself,
the altar I myself commissioned.
There are uncertainties in death,
that pious successors may not be trusted,
that youthful brilliance dies too soon,
is cut down as a shoot or bud, never withering
the way that even the least resplendent
flowers are allowed when their days expire.
I seek the immovable firmament of the heavens,
the very arched halls of Olympus immortal.
They say the gods are laughing at my approach,
they mutter that they will sneer at my question,
they anticipate the mocking answer to come:
“He was never here.”
But the question must be asked…
“…in cold, dark, gloomy places…”
I will not seek for you in Olympus’ courts,
not in the wheat field of Elysium,
not on the shaded banks of the Styx
nor in the dry grey plains of Hades.
You are not there. The same was said
of that Galilean when his women
came before the fisher-folk to his tomb,
and a messenger told them he was not there.
They paused for fear, they fled in joy,
this emptiness which was fulfillment.
I have moved the firmament for you,
reinscribed its stars in memory of your name,
I have opened every road in the earth
and every way in heaven I have cleared
so that you may wander as you might wish,
where none have ventured before.
It is there I will find you.
“…to what places will I set out for now?…”
If there is no place for me, none for you,
then it is well, for we shall make one
for ourselves, if for no one else.
I have built walls that divide islands,
I have built bridges that span rivers,
I have made temples of such size and beauty
even the architects of the heavens are envious.
I have made cities rise from dust and desert.
If there be a limit in the heavenly spheres,
even then, I will carve out a space for us,
I will fashion an enclosure of subtle arts,
where starlight will suffuse the cracks
in woven walls of mud and even dung.
For I have raised prayers more rare
to the sky and the four corners of the cosmos
on stone monuments.
Nothing less for your body.
“…body’s guest and companion…”
For if I am with you as my sole friend,
if none else of the celestial hosts,
of the shades of the dead, of immortal gods,
if even these shun my company, curse my name,
it is as nothing to me, for my soul is sated.
If you are in my sight, then mud is marble,
then even the squalid shit of swine
can be as polished pale alabaster.
I would trade the undying ambrosial fountain
for the kiss of your lips, the water of your eyes.
Take Hebe, take Ganymede, take Dionysos,
and give me a broken couch with you on it.
Let me lie with dogs if we are hounds leashed together,
leave me naked in the rain and I will clothe myself
with your body, with your breath for warmth,
with these things alone.
I will not be alone.
“…little soul, little wanderer, little charmer…”
I will give my immortality up if it means
that you and I may be together.
If it is dead that I must remain,
I am not dead if you are at my side.
We are not brothers like Castor and Pollux,
born of one mother and father, but brothers
like the Sacred Band of Thebes, a pair of men
inseparable by bonds more binding than blood.
This is not poetry speaking, not the orator’s art,
not a rhetorical exercise, not the Muses’ speech.
I make no jokes now, this naked soul of mine,
I make no separation between self and speaking,
nor do I place any distance between you and I.
We two are divine, I am made god by you
sure as by Apis bull and by phoenix I was heralded.
We are gods together. Antinous and Hadrian.
The heavens hold nothing
you and I do not…