Two poems by Lily Iona MacKenzie

Troy XI

As the swarms of flies
(seethe) over the shepherds’ stalls…
so many long-haired Achaeons swarmed across
the plain
to confront the Trojans….

—Book 2, lines 555-59, The Iliad

A hot day and a hush
silences the flies.  I think
I see the soft curve

of a woman’s hip under swaying
cloth.  Goats graze surrounding fields,
the sea now far in the distance.
Sthenelos sprang to the ground
from his chariot / and standing
beside him pulled the sharp arrow clean

through his shoulder.  I stroke
the stone wall, rough surface crusted

with age.  Fine dust clings
to my fingers.  Rocks
evenly stacked row upon row

meander, connecting all ten
Troys, collapsed into each other
like Russian dolls.  Three thousand

years prod cracks and a farrago of lives.
Our feet graze rock slabs
slick as time.  I expect to hear

a horse’s whinny or a donkey’s
bray, smell flesh sizzling
over coals, see a warrior’s blood

spurting through the delicate tunic.
Weeds poke through spaces
between stones and blood

red poppies thrive among
remains.  We stop and watch
ants the size of stars lugging

bits of straw.  They descend
through a hole underground,
building their own Troy.

I Try To Seize the Past

few days on these dunes
in language.  The meadows’
golden grass borders

the sea, ocean spinning
itself and reflecting.  Everything

filled with rectitude, birds
hovering over prey, knowing
exactly when to dive, disappearing

into tall grass.  So much

out of sight, the deer
avatars, heads bobbing
in and out of view.

A brown rabbit streaks
past.  Seals frolic in white
surf, heads wreathed

in seaweed.  Stars
stare out of black and form
familiar patterns, milky way

a haze of subdued
light, big and little
dipper dipping into ink

black night.  Mars
pulses and flexes
its muscles, carrying a torch

for the moon and challenging
her glow. If only all life
could be caught in words,

turned over and over until
they gleam, giving the illusion
of permanence.

About the author

A Canadian by birth, Lily Iona MacKenzie lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she teaches writing at the University of San Francisco.…

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