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Hercules: Before the Light

Wendy Mewes


On his way he met a man

Who laughed his weapons and his pride to scorn,

Offering prayers for easy death in ridicule.

Wife behind in shadowed doorway

Distracts the hero with soft flesh and food,

Drawing him inside, and still the silent prayer

Moves on his lips:


Do not tempt me

Do not make me old

I am he who strangled snakes within the cradle.


Outside the peasant, killing time,

Hears sounds of greedy lust, first flesh

Then flesh again from dark recess. Tonight

His wife will smile, tomorrow he will watch the hero die:

First the feast, then the slaughter of a bogus claim

To righteousness.


Morning comes; with strength exhausted

And with strength renewed, he strides along the way.

Peasant trotting at his heels points out the relics

Of a carnage incomplete; but Hercules

'My fitness comes from eating bones' avers.

Responding smirk meets with a swift revenge,

Blind temper striking peasant dead to add

To lion's feed.


Do not mock me

Do not make me old

I am he who laughed the vintner to his grave.


Within its lair, mane blood-streaked, waits

The lion who fell from the womb of the moon,

Rippling with ardent appetite for life, eager

For visitors. Man's bellows are returned by

Boisterous ferine roar and in a bound

The rampant beast is out.


The hell-hound's arrow is of no avail,

Sleek silk chest expels a sword-shaft split,

Cruel club blow leaves the lion on its feet

But in retreat, dark cavity a welcoming return.

Crass, smiling, Hercules with arm cloak-bound pursues;

Tricked in man's game, wrestling,

Hugeness rolls and flails in vain as

Human paws more savage than the beast's

Choke out its majesty.


Inglorious, our solar hero strips the skin

A tawdry prize for shrouding brutish

Frame. Shouldering the rest,

The victory march begins, rabid hymn

Now bursting from his lips:


Do not tempt me

Do not make me old

I am he who triumphs over barbarity.




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