Conversation in the Ruined Temple of Hera

How can I tell this barrel-chested jogger,
This charming intruder,
That each evening, at dusk’s hem,
I’m drawn (as if by silent command)
To Hera’s dilapidated temple—
So help me, in hot-to-the-touch July, 
Whatever my island plans,
My hopscotch, rather stop-start tourism,
I always wind up here,
In the shady villa of Mon Repos,   
Beyond the shuttered pre-Victorian mansion,
Always at the selfsame hour,
Musing among the toppled, ancient stones—

Kalispera: Good evening!
May I join you in your meditation?

Being more or less a fan 
Of charismatic Mediterranean men, 
In no time flat, I surrender
To this semi-formal jogger’s 
Straight-off-the-bat request:
Yes, of course, be my guest. 
Feel free…

For most of us, the meddling gods, 
The lulling nymphs, and sage centaurs 
Seem long gone—so I’m startled, 
When I suddenly reveal to him,
In this tumbledown archeological site:
Sometimes when I close my lids, 
I can almost spot the imposing dragon, 
Rumored to be the Greek goddess’
Unfailing guardian.   

Oh yes, I’ve read about the beast
At Hera’s beck and call:
I believe his unsettling, not-so-friendly name 
Was Python.

Suddenly, I tease this well-built stranger, 
(Who unveils his own name as Yorgos,
Whose English is clear, carefully parsed, 
And quite passable):
Perhaps you’re the dragon,
Changed to a handsome human form?

That’s just the sort of thing a poet would ask!

Believe it or not, Yorgos, I’m actually a poet—

Perfect! Bingo, as you say! 
I’ve spotted you before
And desired to meet you—
I like to jog here on summer evenings,
When the island cools down,
So I pushed past the shyness 
That so often plagues me
About my inferior spoken English
(Though, I’m proud to declare, dear American—
You’re American, yes?—
My reading ability is good).
I’m not a cosmopolitan,
A modern EU sort of Greek;
I’ve only known this island
And nearby Paxi, and Cephallonia;
Believe it or not, I’ve never even seen
Athens’s busy chaos;
I’m always reluctant to leave Corfu—

Soon, as if on cue, we both
Slip into an expanding silence,
A not counterfeit yogi’s calm, chockablock,
To my surprise,
With showering sparks and vast colors —
Until I hear a soothing Yorgos announce:

And now that we’ve paid
Homage to our still viable goddess,
Let me lead you
From these sacred columns,
To a cleared path
Through purple cyclamen
Down to the hidden beach: 
A delightful and special one, known 
Only to longtime islanders—

A little spellbound, intrigued 
By our out-of-left-field meditation,
Our odd and lovely talk,
But tranquil, utterly tranquil,
I descend with this mesmerizing jogger 
To the glittering beach, 
But don’t feel in the least bit startled 
When he nimbly dispenses
With his batik tank top, pulling me 
To his remarkable chest
With its appealing, runaway fur…


When hardy, easy-to-adore Yorgos and I
Climb back to the stones, I confess:
When you were making your moves,
Dear Corfiat, I swear I could sense 
The busybody dragon’s wings 
Hovering above the beach—
How is that possible?

Don’t get me wrong: 
So help me, I’m no voyeur,
But once upon a time, I heard
The subtle music of your sighs,
On the beach at Mirtiotissa—
In a state of wonder,
I stumbled onto the cave
Where two powerhouse men (a swimmer 
From Thessaloniki, I believe, 
And his bearded lover, 
A Cypriot painter)
Were indeed adoring—
In fine, muscled fashion—
The showcase of your sun-golden 
Limbs and torso,
Filling you in unison
Just as the foraging tide 
Ambushed the cave and gripped
Your supple wrists and ankles … 
And from my secret post,
My dragon’s perch,
I vowed to have you for myself,
So, in a match-burst, I transformed 
Into a masterly lover, 
A perfectly alluring mortal—

Dear Dallying Jogger, 
Or, to absolutely blast the bull’s-eye,
Dear Temple Dragon:
You tricked me!

My sweet, dreamy bard, wouldn’t you say
That’s just the sort of thing 
Irreverent dragons do: 
A timeless recipe of lusty fire 
Mixed with a pinch of mischief—
Besides, Yorgos insists, 
Hera heard your summer prayer,  
Your subterranean request
For the nuzzle and thrust
Of a more attentive lover;
Here in this ruined temple on Corfu,
You’ve been faithful 
To the eavesdropping goddess
In the steadiness of your evening visits—
A form of reverence and praise, 
So the cloud-borne sponsor
Of sweethearts, brides, and lissome lovers,   
Zeus’s long-suffering wife
Summoned me—but don’t fret,
My delectable poet:
With one dragon’s purposeful breath,
I can banish, abracadabra, the joyous 
Memory of our beach-time 
And fireworks meditation—

When I open my eyes, 
The ancient, reliable sun’s setting,
The immense park’s ready to close:
I’m sitting, blissfully cross-legged,

In the disheveled temple,
Alone among the slipshod columns, 
The gorgeous, wrecked pediments:

Yorgos, what? What did you say?

Cyrus Cassells is the author of eight books of poetry, including The World That the Shooter Left Us (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2022) and The Gospel according to Wild Indigo (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018). He is the translator from the Catalan of Still Life with Children: Selected Poems of Francesc Parcerisas (Stephen F. Austin University, 2019), which won the Texas Institute of Letters’s Souerette Diehl Fraser Award for Best Translated Book. His honors also include the Balcones Prize, a Lannan Literary Award, a Lambda Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, two NEA grants, an NAACP Image Award nomination, and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award. He was the 2021 Poet Laureate of Texas.

Cassells’s AGNI poem “Elegy with a Gold Cradle” was chosen for The Best American Poetry 2017.