The Mysteries

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Sept. 11 1996 3:30 AM

The Mysteries

To hear "The Mysteries" read by the poet, click here or on the title.

Writing about the mysteries

you can't quite say what they were.

Sacrifices? fasting? walking below

or sprinkling drops of water near

the marriage bed where the celebrants lay

briefly with the sacred one before

the raising up of objects?

You, the writer separated from her

by centuries, know only that later she'll

reappear sometimes on vases ...

Hell was invented about this time;

later sources aren't reliable.

Aristotle writes that you'll suffer

over the mysteries but will learn

nothing new. The past slips into you finally.

Generations kept these secrets.

Islands fell asleep looking at the sea.

The one who ruled you above will rule you

below, taking you down to show you

the cut part of the wheat.

Probably she was earth,

your hunger was beautiful,

her hunger was beautiful,

but what do you really know?

Much was enacted, much was shown,

the burning one is sought

as an emblem; just once you will lie down

between her legs. The ritual

goes on with its potions,

its implied promises; the priest goes on

with his combs, his animals,

the exhausted wheat held up--

you try in vain, and after your research

among the transcripts of the institution

what gives you immortal life turns out to be

the breath of another person ...

Belief in the subterranean rooms

has haunted you. Not finding them

isn't it the same as if you had?

We know you through your writings

and your complaints. Of course

she found you, though you believed

she loved you less than she should have--

your short smile, your long tears,

your fingers exiting the page,

the chords of your mysteries

absolute and wild and brief--

Brenda Hillman is the author of four books of poetry. She teaches at St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.