Orpheus and Eurydice

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Don’t Look Back

eurydice

Stories like this are our lot in life. Don’t look back, whether it be religion or mythology. The Buddhists would approve, I suppose, though I’m not sure looking forward would be any better in their eyes.

Still, there’s something about the story of Eurydice and Orpheus that gets to the heart of the matter. Death. Second chances. The type deal even Lazarus could love. But can you trust yourself to trust others? Even the God of Hell?

As Karl Marx didn’t say, music is the opiate of the masses, and certainly Orpheus put some religion in people, from Hades to his seasonal bride Persephone to a host of lesser gods and nymphs. As the Bard would have it (at least, on the Twelfth Night of things): “If music be the food of love, play on!”

Anyway, to be a poet with chops, you compose your version of a subject many before have trodden. Penned your ars poetica already? How about a Greek myth? How about one that wraps death in love like bacon ’round baby hot dogs? Eurydice will do, as well as any.

Looking at Ocean Vuong’s entry, “Eurydice,” you might make a game of the allusions he offers. Sound is there (check) as is a “hole / in the garden” (check). But we have “the rib’s / hollowed hum,” too, bringing matters Adamic to mind.

There’s also the matter of “where you stand” here. In the myth, to heighten drama, Orpheus is right at the portal of hell and earth, his love just approaching the threshold, when he gives in to his oh-so-human weakness for curiosity and doubt. Cue the Greek Chorus singing “You. Idiot.”

What’s most unusual about the OV version, though, is the ending. Orpheus calls for the girl, but she is still “beside him. Frosted grass / snapping beneath her hooves.”

Really? Are we horsing around here? Or is it cloven hooves, as in Jack Scratch the Devil? The allusions begin to swirl like cotton candy, sometimes pink and sometimes blue but always remarkably like insulation.

I don’t know. Sometimes giving up or remaining on the outside of meaning looking in is the peace we forge. Between writer and reader, a house divided will never stand, they say, but how long can you go through life trusting “they”?

Give a listen:

 

Eurydice
by Ocean Vuong

It’s more like the sound
a doe makes
when the arrowhead
replaces the day
with an answer to the rib’s
hollowed hum. We saw it coming
but kept walking through the hole
in the garden. Because the leaves
were bright green & the fire
only a pink brushstroke
in the distance. It’s not
about the light—but how dark
it makes you depending
on where you stand.
Depending on where you stand
his name can appear like moonlight
shredded in a dead dog’s fur.
His name changed when touched
by gravity. Gravity breaking
our kneecaps just to show us
the sky. We kept saying Yes—
even with all those birds.
Who would believe us
now? My voice cracking
like bones inside the radio.
Silly me. I thought love was real
& the body imaginary.
But here we are—standing
in the cold field, him calling
for the girl. The girl
beside him. Frosted grass
snapping beneath her hooves.