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.