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CLYTEMNESTRA (poem) - Oksana Zabuzhko - Ukraine - Poetry International
 
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Clytemnestra
                                        “You’re not really a woman.”


Agamemnon’s coming home.
He’s climbing the stairs, the sun
Is behind him, he’s clanging with brass
Like a war-bloated idol, the leather thongs
Of his armour are squeaking.
Take it off, I don’t want it!
I don’t want the animal smell of his mouth,
Or his hands with their black-rimmed nails – those hands
Rip off my clothes as if I were some corpse on a battlefield,
And under his nails the flakes
And fuzz from the clothes and hair of the slain are probably still rotting.
Maybe I’m really not a woman.
I don’t want to scream and squirm with mortal pleasure,
Pierced by that gleaming weapon of his,
Soaked in gobs of sweat stinking
Of his regal power, trapped under his body
Trickling its sticky death-juices on me; I hate
The high-pitched bitch’s whimper
That will escape my throat;
I hate the wave of languor that will embrace me
And the doughy, pitted neck above me
When I open my eyes. O son of Atreus!
That’s how Troy, outstretched, writhed under you.
Your arrows target anything alive, elastic, quick –
Is it the doe? Briseis? or hot female blood
Flowing down thighs that makes you the victor,
Able to draw blood from a body like the sinless man water from a stone?
It wasn’t lust or beastliness but bestiality
To have conquered Clytemnestra and the doe and Cassandra, Mycenae and Troy.
Maybe I’m really not a woman.
Agamemnon’s coming home, and the shadows smelling of darkness and sweat
                  are growing longer.
I’m cold.
I’m shaking from the realization: killing is also a job!
Spinning, weaving,
Unweaving (like that woman from Ithaca), rubbing Aegisthus’ rosy body
(what does he have to do with this?)
With soothing oil –
These are pleasures for hands, occupations for hands – but not those of a queen.
They’re no more noble, for instance, than fingering pockmarks.
It would be a hundred times better to run off with some pilgrims,
Say, to Delphi, and become a priestess,
To belong at every feast to every passing cripple,
To give myself up blindly to that faceless force
Without malevolence
And omnipresent – shifting, coursing, unseen . . .
Oh, how cold I am!
You’re climbing the stairs, backlit by the sun –
Oh godlike,
More godlike, more hateful, more compelling
Is your stride up the stairs (each step weighs
One year of the Trojan war) – oh, come closer, closer . . .  
Stiff with excitement,
Half-blinded from the black and white – this graph of shadows, patches
              of sun on the marble tiles –
I’m keeping in my sight, with the whole strength of my imagination,
Just this one small room
Where the curtain’s like burst crimson: when you step behind it,
With a single lordly gesture
Of my hand, steady with the cold, obedient metal,
I’ll out-do everything you have accomplished,
I’ll establish a new kingdom –
A world without Agamemnon.
 
 
 
 

Translator's Note: “You’re not really a woman”: in the version by the great Ukrainian poet and playright Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913), these are the words spoken by Cassandra to Clytemnestra when the two find themselves face to face on the threshold of the palace of Mycenae upon Agamemnon’s return.