“Sappho” By Jaime Silverthorn


Poem by Jaime Silverthorn

Art by Maggie Lu

Sappho, under your coarse feet

the pricking splinters bite.

In mourning tides

was the ship steady?

The waves nip their breaks for you,

sip back the froth softer, bubbled.

Did the island slip under the algae blooms?

The beach was scattered with short swords that

stuck into your back to push you here.

Did you look for the glint of sun off the iron?

Sappho searches through the crowds for a genetic iris match

to reflect her own. I shade my eyes

when my mother cries, tears hold me drunk.

Did daughter run through the metal sands

to watch you go, the braids you

weaved bouncing? I twist my own hair now,

Mother never quite careful enough.

Leaving home strikes a match

on the door frame,

a bucket of water

poured around the ledges.

It never quite catches

no matter the scorch it might leave;

I have always had this door open.

I imagine how it would slam

in sleep and can feel waves

under my toes,

feel broad swords in my back,

left in the shifting spaces.

Sappho breathed like

salt chewing legacy from papyrus

in libraries that sank in Alexandria.

I miss the melody of her

sweet core with fig bites and

wine scrunch, grape sown,

I call her name now in sleep.

Daughter is silent in sharp sands,

glare blinding. She picks through the iron

bed hoping to find a mother’s hair

to save, tucked in cruel shells of

the armies and navies

buried deep.

She savors sun-blanked vision,

avoids Mother’s piercing stare

blotted salty,

shades her eyes to keep sober.

Sappho and I know how to hold face

Frozen in sea waves bubbling with restraint,

though her goodbye echoes in terminals with a

mother’s red-rimmed lids.

But daughters hear the cut dial tone,

the dull buzz on Sunday evenings.

Mother’s breathing on the other end,

missed living across ocean sounds,

imagine the whispers of weeping sucked

from papyrus teeth in their reedy throats.

I lose pleated moments in my decision as

child, as Sappho, wrapped in both women,

my braids coming loose.

Does the blurring froth on the sands

eat our sad singing?

Pick up tones I’m deaf to?

We girls plodded shorelines

for rusting shells,

holding them to ears like the ocean

might tell us how far from home we are,

how self-imposed our exile.

How many songs weaved wars between us,

scattering memories and mementos  

on beaches she can’t return to

when I’ve turned away?

The doorframe flames

when I step across.