Circe Poems
by Aza Pace

Circe Invidiosa - John William Waterhouse - Oil on Canvas

Circe Invidiosa, John William Waterhouse, 1892
Oil on Canvas, 71.1 x 34.4 inches
from Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Original in Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

The Day I Meet Circe

First things first,
she shaves her head, and leaves

her amber braids to catch
on brambles for the birds.

Her empty house exhales
into the trees that made it—

oak to oak—the timbers
turning wild. And inky night

spills across the threshold
like rising surf. Without

their tamer’s hand
to brush their shoulders,

wolves descend on the pigs.
Lions retreat and forget.

Circe rides a curve of sea
to wash ashore again

at a gritty lake a continent
away. Here she finds her kith

stalking through the understory:
bobcats loose their infant cries

and nuzzle at her calves,
haughty owls blink—one eye,

another—and bring her mice
and voles. I hear the forest’s

uproar like a breath across
my neck, and then it comes:

her feline hand opening my door.

Q&A with the Witch Circe,
in Which I Am Too Afraid to Speak


He smelled of salt and sun.
What more can I say about a man

sharp as a glint of sky on a blade?


I offered him a truce he could understand:
let us make love so that we may trust one another.

I used no tricks, I needed no perfumes.


What you call evil, those men received in thanks:
their cheeks dripped with my sweet honey, my bread

and sour cheese, enough wine for an ocean.
Where would their hunger turn next?


Imagine how illuminating, a night in a pigsty—
just one turn of the moon spent cooped up

with your fellows, seeing for the first time
what has been inside you all along, and rooting in the mud

for morsels of pleasure.


Oh, that is a more delicious question.
Generations of your kind passed while I sat admiring

a seashell on my beach. My heartbeat slowed
until even I scarcely noticed it.

Why did I leave, slip into the sea’s green skirts,
abandon my glittering bed?


The Day I Met Odysseus

At the edge of my vision
a ship glittered.

Soon, whispers, the rustle of longswords approaching.

Finally, a face burning
against my cool window.


Until then, I kept so busy coaxing
drops of magic out of the quiet forest,
I never paused at alone:

what men call darkness,
having good eyes but unwilling to look,
that was my home.

What at first glance seemed
an uninhabited spit, quietly teemed: everything
roiled with energy and yearned
to share it with me.


Now, from the sea’s blur emerged
these strange soldiers, heavy

footfalls on my dreamlike sands.
They called out to me; to my fingertips
flew poison and sweet wine.

Circe Recalls the Nymph Scylla

I ask about monsters
writhing in the pitch

of the sea, tangle of tentacles.
Circe covers her eyes with long fingers

in the storm of seaweed
I’ve called forth.

Questions burn on my tongue
like Circe’s curse must have done

as she stepped through boiling waves
to Scylla’s quiet pool:

the tang of poisons,
a piercing word, her victim.

I ask if the metamorphosis was painless at least
and Circe murmurs that the monster

feared its own body, that afterwards,
it gorged on sailors for comfort.

She pronounces this like penance. We stare
relentlessly at the details,

the gory muzzles, the twisting limbs.

Witch in My Forest: Fragments

In the summer, a deer takes two steps

and disappears—
the green is that deep.

In winter, across five acres,
crumbling barbed wire.


What strangeness:
a doe chases me
and my two tame pit bulls

all the way back to the house,
gives one loud chuff, and departs.

(This dog I call my lion,
this one my panther.)

And those wild berries
that prickle up along the property line,
crushed by the neighbor
on his four-wheeler.


Around the campfire, a witch.
She leaves small bundles of hair and baby teeth
tied with red thread to the pine boughs.


At any time of year, the trees are still

Shock of milkweed, defiantly orange.

Fat caterpillar, length of my palm.

Lime moss down my most-traveled path.


Sometimes, the witch screams
deep in the black woods
(or is it a bobcat?)
We all—humans and dogs—shiver
in the tense porch light.


Often, the wilder dog waits
on the opposite creek bed,
watching the armadillo den.

The vultures know—they circle.

Someone says, “Your mom is kind of a witch.”
I know—she believes in things
I barely dare to say aloud.
She is the one who tames the dogs.


Perhaps the witch lives
in that lightning-struck tree.
Or lies disguised in the mud
of the creek bed.


I too live surrounded on all sides

by the forest, ask it for its secrets.

Answer: you can judge the seasons here
by how high the crab-like spiders
hang their webs.

How do you survive on such fragments?
Find the next one, the next one.

Aza Pace’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Copper Nickel, The Florida Review Online, South Dakota Review, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse among others. She is the winner of an Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Poetry, and she holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Houston.

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