Home > New Classics > The Constellation of the Water Snake

The Constellation of the Water Snake

August 13, 2010

by Maggie Cleveland

Hydra’s Alphard:

the evening star.
A double star
triple the size of the sun, it
is the most

beautiful of all stars,
the coruscating eye
in the constellation
of the Water Snake.

The Greeks said Crow
served Apollo
a goblet of wine. Loved,
he brought it to his lips,
but remembered crow was tricky.
Before he poured it
down his gullet, he
glanced at the cup
& saw Hydra the snake—
sharp fangs gleaming
with his venom.
Crow
lowered his gaze,
irresistible and bittersweet,
swilled the rest of his wine,
that loosener
of conscience,
& winked.

Apollo was
a trembling mound
of muscle, a swirling fury
of limbs. “Love,”
he said,
grabbing the snake
by the tail to cast the
reptile like
a ball into the sky

where it was caught by Alphard,
ensnared in a nebulous web.
Crow
planned his getaway quick.
“I’ll fly off before he
strikes me.” Down
the cliff he plunged,
a black blur of feathers.
Apollo’s hands were faster.
Now Crow and Snake
hang side by side in the sky.

Apollo went back to Greece
alone.

Note: this reverse erasure poem incorporates 2 of Sappho’s fragments (left-aligned text) from Mary Barnard’s translation.


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Maggie Cleveland looks for omens and wears her heartbreak like jewels in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where she works as a grant writer and lives as a proud mama of two fierce little girls. She is the director of the Whaling City Review LIVE poetry series, and is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. Maggie was recently published in Amerarcana: The Bird & Beckett Review.

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  1. gregory cleveland
    August 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Quite a clever poem Ms Cleveland…I hope to hear more from you in the future.

  2. August 27, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Thanks, Dad! :)

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