In the Spaces of Imaginal Adventure

Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1231

Even though you are approaching Sappho in translation, that is no reason you should miss the drama of trying to read a papyrus torn in half or riddled with holes or smaller than a postage stamp – brackets imply a free space of imaginal adventure.
Anne Carson, from her “Introduction” to Fragments of Sappho

“if not, winter…” 
	-- Sappho, from Fragment 22

“If not, winter, 
[like a wish of fire 
for the sultry wood 
it longs to glow
its kisses from,

I, too, will descend, 
slowly purchasing 
my slender foothold 

on the trembling air 
between us.]” 

“you burn me…” 
	-- Sappho, from fragment 38

“You burn me
[with a malice of silence.

An inquisition of glances unmet
has crowned me daughter.

I flinch under their cross. 
Flensed heart, fleshless love, 

With whom do you sleep tonight?
Who lifts up your nightdress

To bathe your thighs in kisses?]”

“gold anklebone cups…”  
	-- Sappho, from fragment 192

“Gold anklebone cups, 
[brass rings around your arms…

In the spangled smoke, 
in the incensed tint of candle light….

Silver circles your fingers,
Amethyst hangs from your lobes…

You dance, and your skirt glides
along the marbled floor… 

You sway your hips.
             You turn your hands this way,
       that way…                        	

A blade of flame races along 
                      the ridges of my heart,
                                scattering the birds that nest there into flight…

A drumbeat fills my ears.
      My tongue is a lumpen fool. 
            My eyes drift out of focus…

sweat tingles my face, 
my breasts, 
my thighs…

my skin pale as summer grass…

I long to lean down to you…
to where my lips tremble 
behind the curtains of your hair…]”