By Jackie Morfesis
She stands on the precipice
motioning back and forth
as if her life depended on her next step.
And it does.
You, who loved Aphrodite,
who called to her wanting words,
are every poet’s muse.
Is it possible that I wait in vigil
as you contemplate your destiny?
I too, look to the sea for solace,
wondering if she will envelop me for all eternity.
Walking into her warmth without fear.
But I need no display of drama.
It is enough to go quietly into the darkness.
Would it have been different if one breath had changed
along the way?
One look, one glance.
Would it have been different if a sound moved you
in another direction?
Or is it fated,
like the lines on our hands,
that the hour comes
when we too, must leap.
I wrote this poem years ago after my visit to Cyprus. There are times in our lives when we not only read or are inspired by the great mythical stories of the ancients, but that we start to live mythically. As a creative soul, I was never satisfied with words on a page.
The words on a page, the sounds in the ethers, the touch of the wind, they come alive, in ways unusual, mysterious, even dangerously. But always transformative. If we are willing to stop being an observer and start being completely present.
The fates took me to Cyprus to participate in the EPEA (European Prison Education Association) annual conference. I vividly remember the day I was sitting in the Philadelphia International Airport waiting to board my flight to Cyprus. I am including this here because it speaks to an important component of taking the proverbial leap of faith.
I was anxious about making the trip to Cyprus. For a few reasons. I was traveling alone, though I had traveled alone overseas in the past. I was participating in a prison conference and was introduced to the organization from a search on the internet. I felt alone and was second-guessing my decision. I called a few friends, and they all responded the same: “You will have a great time. You will do great.”
It was not working. I was still anxious about the trip. Then I called my father. He knew right away from my voice exactly how I felt. I said I am waiting to board the plane. Without missing a beat, he yelled into the phone: “Where’s your backbone, get on the plane!”
He gave me what I needed. He knew what I needed. This is love.
At the time, and to this day, I had and still have a passion for issues surrounding the incarcerated and those in re-entry. My creative life and love for the mythic merges with my faith walk as I have shared poetry workshops for those in the prison system. I take Matthew 25:35 completely to heart, knowing full well that we serve Christ when we serve the suffering, the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, the widowed, and the orphaned.
Yet, my trip to Cyprus was something more than my participation in a conference. My trip was about returning to the place that for me was a numinous container of the energies of the past, energies that still inform the present. I knew that Cyprus was the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite, the one birthed from the foam of her waters. The one who defied all convention to follow her passions.
I knew that the treasured lyric poet Sappho, spoke words to the goddess Aphrodite which still exist in fragments. I knew that Sappho is believed to have plunged to her death in her last symbolic act if you will for love. Her leap, if true, is certainly tragic given her enormous gifts. I am moved to give homage to someone whose powerful voice was silenced, as so many powerful voices throughout history have been silenced, especially those who were courageous in ways unexpected and unaccepted.
My fascination with all things Cypriot began when I met someone who for me embodied the beauty and timelessness of the mythic stories. He was and will always be in many ways, the epitome of the mythic manifest in man. A modern if you will, king. Not king of a country, but a king in that he owned his power and in turn empowered and served as a catalyst for the transformative work of soul in those around him. I will forever be indebted to his mentorship, if not in earthly terms, but in spiritual.
My trip to Cyprus and love of her association with the goddess Aphrodite came after my exploration and walk with the goddess Persephone. I suppose that this was the logical progression. Years before, I went to Greece and lived there for one year to immerse myself in the ancient works, the poetry, writings, literature, and religion of ancient Greece. And Persephone, she was at the very heart and core of my journey.
I related to her for so many reasons, they are innumerable. I too, understood what it meant to be ripped from my world and everything familiar, and in a moment’s notice, thrown into a place of seclusion, isolation, a terrifying place. I too, learned to rely on guides and help from other realms, as she communed with the shadows and shades of Hades, to whom she later became a guide. I too, had a deep and fertile inner life, which sustained me in ways miraculously even as a young child.
I too, found my own innocence taken from me and in the process moved from the archetype of young maiden to queen. I too, because of my own suffering, developed a deep empathy for others who suffer. And I too, understand the cycles of life, the going down and rising places and spaces.
Does this all sound too fantastical? Unbelievable? Incompatible with other aspects of our lives? It is not. It is completely congruent, believable, and supportive of our becoming.
My journey with Persephone’s story and my journey with Aphrodite are two aspects of my journey within. We no longer worship the pantheon of gods and goddesses if we are not pagans. To be clear, I never worshipped them either. I did, however, encounter them symbolically as a creative.
What I also did do and hope to continue to do as not only a Greek American, but as a seeker of knowledge and forever curious, is to have gratitude and appreciation for all that has come before me, through the imagination, talent, struggles, and triumphs of humanity. In this respect, not only Hellenes and Hellenes of the diaspora, but all the world is gifted by the contributions of our ancestors.
During my time in Greece, I wrote this poem to Persephone. It speaks to the gifts that I received from studying the Eleusinian Mysteries and her journey through the underworld. We navigate more than one underworld metaphorically in our lives, and we navigate more than one rising from the ashes.
Through it all the sun shines. Even though there are times when we cannot visibly see the sun, it is always there, with us, beside us, and even within us. This is the great mystery that even the ancients knew as truth.
You were there,
my birdlike body
when I was trapped.
You were there
I prayed for my life
to be cleansed.
You were there
when one after another
the disembodied souls
You are here
when I remember
why I so desperately
Being with you
has been hard.
But you picked me.
teaching me your ways.
Of blood, of heart, and longing.
With roots that stretch
into my every vein.
and dance in the fire.
And every now and then
we resurface, holding hands.
And for one brief moment
the sun shines.
Melting my memories.
The sun shines.
Enough to sustain
the inevitable journey down.