‘A game, a grid, a system, a mere folder’

A poet who found fascinating verbal and rhythmic correlatives for her observational powers, Amy Clampitt didn’t publish her first book of verse until 1984 — in her sixties. Then she wasted no time. “Athena” turns the Greek goddess into her father in Roman mythology, Janus: the law as two-faced immovable, terrifying force.

Force of reason, who shut up the shrill
foul Furies in the dungeon of the Parthenon,
led whimpering to the cave they live in still,

beneath the rock your city foundered on:
who, equivocating, taught revenge to sing
(or seem to, or be about to) a kindlier tune:

mind that can make a scheme of anything—
a game, a grid, a system, a mere folder
in the universal file drawer: uncompromising

mediatrix, virgin married to the welfare
of the body politic: deific contradiction,
warbonnet-wearing olive-bearer, author

of the law’s delays, you who as talisman
and totem still wear the aegis, baleful
with Medusa’s scowl (though shrunken

and self-mummified, a Gorgon still): cool
guarantor of the averted look, the guide
of Perseus, who killed and could not kill

the thing he’d hounded to its source, the dread
thing-in-itself none can elude, whose counter-
feit we halfway hanker for: aware (gone mad

with clarity) we have invented all you stand for,
though we despise the artifice—a space to savor
horror, to pre-enact our own undoing in—
living, we stare into the mirror of the Gorgon.

Happy May.

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