Daphne

Pursuit and flight are equal, or at least equal in danger. Pursuit has foundered many, and many more have fled themselves completely. Even a god was lost among us.

Daphne’s heels drummed the forest floor. If it wasn’t Cupid who spurred her on, she at least felt an arrow’s sting and quickened her pace. She skipped the roots where Apollo fell. Some say, of course, he was held back, but that resignation was quite his own when, panting, he drew himself up from dead leaves to watch her, a tiny white fleck, float deeper into the grove. The chase began when she was lost to his sight.

Alone, Apollo’s search inspires everything. Daphne comes to him in every woodland sound, she breathes from every tree. Lost for good, she is now everywhere. And so he will climb, sometimes, to lie in her arms, or preen her tresses, or curl his length about her trunk. He tends the forest as a lover, diligent and maniacal. When the arch of a root discloses her foot Apollo throws himself on it with kisses. His lips taste bitter earth and he lies in ecstasy.

Did Daphne transform? For Apollo, there is no question. Yet still she is itinerant. The boughs of yesterday’s embrace today are cold. That knot, in which he saw her face, is now not even a heart. From birch to beech to laurel, Daphne darts, and the god, as best he can, stays in pursuit. He crouches, circumspect, then resumes his dash. He gropes within the bushes. He smells her perfume in a bunch of berries. Every glance reveals a promise.

Virgin always, Daphne watches him. No man treads this forest. If, by whatever errancy, they did, then never would they find a god. Only Daphne knows Apollo now. His bow forgotten, he slinks among the trunks. A moss has taken root upon his back, his lips are perished by the bark’s abrasions. From her quiet vantage, Daphne blooms. Who knows with what emotion she surveys Apollo’s fate: to crawl, doubtfully, between the laurels, silent as the wood from which he is made?

(Chicago, June 2013)

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