Linda Gregerson

Theseus Forgetting

It’s all a sort of labyrinth:
             the way back out occluded while

             the monster the place was designed to contain
                          still rages at its core. These aren’t

the best of times for honor-under-pressure.
             And the girl, having foolishly fallen in

             love with a man her island had cause
                          to hate, was no doubt ill advised

to fall asleep at all. So Theseus
             “forgot her.” Or the teller of tales forgot

             to provide a motive for his hero, which
                          has spawned a clutch of patchings-

up, not one of them not lame.
             What comes to us in pieces—think

             of Sappho on the midden heap—lays
                          claim to us in ways the merely

perfect can’t. And then
             when the story resumes, our man forgets

             again, this time the matter of changing
                          the sails. Too plausible:

his head so full of triumphs and the shore
             so near . . . Which means his father,

             beholding the black-draped masts, believes
                          his son has died and leaps,

despairing, from the cliff. Which
             means that Theseus is king.

             Were this another sort of story, we’d
                          begin to sense a moral here:

ambition and its discards, for example. But
             the units of comprehension somehow

             aren’t the ones we’re used to, there’s
                          a piece gone missing, outsourced,

like causality, to petty gods. Does Theseus
             live to be sorry? Of course. And, as

             it was the wisdom of the Greeks to see,
                          for things quite unrelated.

Do you wish to be spared the sight
             of your children against the rocks?

             You’d better time your dying right.