Archival Features, Poems

SIERRA NELSON We’ll Always Have Carthage

The head must bow to the heart,
which is why I always look down;
if the earth is round and round
I’ll be wrong until the ends of it.

Beautiful, you said, and meant
the sea. Reminding me—
there are walls to be built,
rocks carried.

Now I can’t meet you
or your eyes—just the boats
below in the harbor,

The wind shakes the earth
from its four corners;
the flames are picking up,
or is that me shaking?

Look, I’m right—the sun is underwater.
Now get out of here with that lion’s skin
on your back.

“We’ll Always Have Carthage” was inspired in part by images from Virgil’s The Aeneid. In that epic poem, the hero Aeneas and his battered fleet take shelter in Carthage, and Aeneas begins a romance with the Carthaginian Queen, Dido. He stays happily with her, helping her efforts to rebuild her city, but when the god Mercury comes to Aeneas to remind him of his destiny elsewhere, the hero decides to slip away in the middle of the night. Dido catches on to the plan and confronts him, but chooses not to detain him or harm his ships, although at certain points it crosses her mind. Instead she builds a large funeral pyre for herself, a conflagration Aeneas and his men see as they are sailing away. This poem isn’t meant to retell that story, but does resonate with some of its tone and imagery, especially as imagined from Dido’s perspective. The image of the lion’s skin was inspired by classic Greek and Roman sculptures of the brutish heroic figure Hercules, often depicted wearing a lion’s skin as a cape, complete with the lion’s mouth open over the hero’s head as a kind of hood.

SIERRA NELSON is a co-founder of literary performance groups The Typing Explosion and the Vis-à-Vis Society. Her work can be found in Forklift, Ohio; Thermos; Diagram; Fairy Tale Review; and other locations. She currently guest writes for Kenyon Review’s blog, and her chapbook with artist Loren Erdrich is forthcoming.

“We’ll Always Have Carthage” appears in Poetry Northwest Spring/Summer 2010 (v5.n1).