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The Tenth Muse (Liskeard, Cornwall: Harry Chambers/Peterloo Poets, 1983; rpt Menhir, 1986)

“Kantaris’s work is powerful, sensual, passionate and controlled. She avoids paltry sentimentality, and is viciously ironic when it suits her subject matter ... a poet of considerably skill.” - British Book News
The Tenth Muse
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The Tenth Muse

My muse is not one of the nine nubile
daughters of Mnemosyne
in diaphanous nightshifts
with names that linger in the air
like scent of jasmine or magnolia
on Mediterranean nights.
Nor was any supple son of Zeus appointed
to pollinate my ear with poppy dust
or whispers of sea-spray.
My muse lands with a thud
like a sack of potatoes.
He has no aura.
The things he grunts are things
I’d rather not hear.
His attitude is ‘Take it or leave it, that’s
the way it is’, drumming his fingers
on an empty pan by way of music.
If I were a man I would enjoy
such grace and favour,
tuning my fork to Terpsichore’s lyre,
instead of having to cope with this dense
late-invented eunuch
with no more pedigree than the Incredible Hulk,
who can’t play a note
and keeps repeating ‘Women
haven’t got the knack’
in my most delicately strung and scented ear.


It seems I must have been more fertile than most
to have taken that wind-blown
thistledown softly-spoken word
into my body and grown big-bellied with it.
Nor was I the first: there had been
rumours of such goings-on before my turn
came—tales of swansdown. Mine
had no wings of feathers actually
but it was hopeless trying to convince them.
They like to think it was mystical
encounter, although they must know
I am not of that fibre—and to say I was
‘trouble’ is laughable.
What I do remember is a great rejoicing,
my body’s arch and flow, the awe,
and the ringing and singing in my ears—
and then the world stopped for a little while.
But still they will keep on about the Word,
which is their name for it, even though I’ve
told them that is definitely
not how I would put it.
I should have known they’d try to take
possession of my ecstasy and
swaddle it in their portentous terminology.
I should have kept it hidden in the dark
web of my veins . . .
Though this child grows in me—
not unwanted certainly, but
not intended on my part; the risk
did not concern me at the time, naturally.
I must be simple to have told them anything.
Just because I stressed the miracle of it
they’ve rumoured it about the place that I’m
immaculate—but then they always were afraid
of female sexuality.
I’ve pondered these things lately in my mind.
If they should canonize me
(setting me up as chaste and meek and mild)
God only knows what nonsense
they’ll visit on the child.


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© Sylvia Kantaris
Last updated: 27 April, 2015