Helen and the Swan*

Photo by Richard Calmes
Photo by Richard Calme

The night of the full moon
calls her to the water,
this daughter of Leda and Zeus.
She feels it in her neck and belly,
and in the prickles on her back
where the wings hide
under her skin.

Long ago, her mother
sheltered a swan fleeing an eagle.
It was that lecherous old liar, Zeus,
In disguise and guile.
He devised a ruse to
Force himself on her.

Or so the story went.
Helen never knew for sure.
Her mother would never say,
But the palace lived on gossip.
Helen heard how she began.
Jealousy made sure she knew.

Her beauty, as she grew,
outshone the mother’s,
But Helen was not the
climber mother Leda was.
She was tagged a child of shame,
Surrounded by malice and whispers,
by deep secrets well-known.

Her beauty would launch
Homer’s one thousand ships
against her new home,
Against old Troy,
now forever destroyed.
Saw Agamemnon and
Achilles fall, too.
And Helen’s prince husband,
Bronze-Age heroes.

It was a curse, always,
being the focus of betrayals,
death and loneliness.
The ageless widow wept in secret,
mocked by strangers
as the years passed.

Each full moon pulled her
to the lake. Her robe dropped
in haste along the way.
Stones jabbed her bare feet, unfelt.
The path, lighted by the moon,
Led through woods to waters…
Where ripples parted with welcome.

She slipped in, changed,
A fisherman who lived on the lake
told the story for years
of an unusually
large, night-black swan
that appeared on the waters
on the nights of full moons.

And he swore, always–
‘though no one believed him—
that the swan would swim for hours silently,
sadly in the moonlight,
until stepping ashore near a ruined temple.
He swore he heard beating wings.
A naked woman would appear
skin shining as bright as moonlight.

He was crushed by her beauty,
And wanted to go to her,
but could not move his legs.
He knew.

She stood absolutely still,
bathed in a silvery glow from
skin that could not age,
surrounding a heart
that had already died..

*Heavily edited, rewritten

©Hemmingplay 2017

The Full Moon

9 Replies to “Helen and the Swan*”

  1. I read what you and Jo talked about but your story took me to a place that said when you are not true to yourself you are filled with longing. Thank for gifting us with this story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up first reading fairy tales, then mythology. What a lovely retelling of the tale, how rich the analysis of Helen’s feelings. Nicely done! Jo


    1. Thanks, Jo. I did have fun spinning this one out. It started with the photo, actually. I had saved a bunch of dancer photos to use as prompts (and actually posted 4-5 others). Her pose reminded me of a swan, and like you, I’d read a lot of the Greek myths long ago and the story of Leda and the Swan popped into my head. Then I wondered about Leda’s daughter, connected a couple of dots on my own, and this was the result. Fun.

      Liked by 1 person

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