“Daphne” by Kenny Williams

Kenny Williams


In the ancient world,
when someone threw a dinner party
they’d all lean in
to hear old stories
as if they were new.
When everyone retired
to their countless separate rooms,
the eel and duck,
the peacock and candied locust
sweetly brewing,
they’d lie awake plotting
their children’s future.
Would it be through love or hate,
marrying Apollonia to Peneus,
the old river god
with farms half a pregnancy away
and an allergy to fish?
Such details one thinks to put in letters
to in-laws one will never meet!
Tonight on the news
the molester was sentenced,
twelve centuries in jail.
The time it takes to rise and fall.
Against her parents’ insistence
one girl had a child
with fine green veins
pulsing in its downy skull.
One day in the park,
near the sound of water,
the child will stand,
wobble and fall forward,
crawling with desperate technique
on hands and knees,
like one of those soldiers
with sticks and leaves
stuck on his helmet.
The girl will choke back tears
too true to be believed,
her nose nearly wetting the page
whose author she seems to be.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009


Kenny Williams: “‘Daphne’ began with the sound of water in a public park. Only later, remembering this sound as I wrote the poem, or imagining that I remembered it, did it seem important to my experience in the park that day that not only did I not see the source of the water-sound but that it never occurred to me to seek it out or interrogate its apparent absence. The leafy child, naturally, was imported into the poem from my imagination, the child’s mother and father from the dramas of exploitation media, the Roman dinner from the mists of historic memory. Like all the work that is finished in this world, ‘Daphne’ frightens me.”

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