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 eight collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Practical Water. She is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif.