"The Queen of Tragedy"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
July 30 2002 11:30 AM

The Queen of Tragedy

                            —after Catullus

Listen to Carol Muske-Dukes reading this poem. Here she comes, the Queen of Tragedy, dragging her train of black feathers … Grieving publicly, grieving at the great communal well. Tears, tears everywhere!

But Catullus' lover lost her pet sparrow
and that small moment fit grief perfectly.
The Latin: pipiebat—uncanny the precise
sound of the tiny bold piping—heard

no more. In her lap or at her breast,
Her sparrow lifting like that my sorrow

cheeping all the time, hopping from one
shoulder to another … pipiebat, little incident.

Yes, in all the translations, it is a small bird,
it is a needless act. This is what makes me
want to talk to you tonight, Catullus. You,
tagging the off-white walls with immortal

graffiti—making Lesbia's tears also eternal.
You eulogized the sparrow—bright-eyed
hopper on her breast, who inspired the great
sentiment—who flittered down the dark

alleyway of the Infinite. You did not flinch.
You'd rather have written of a drag queen,
of Aemilius' ass-breath, a botched campaign,
back-alley buggery. Anything but grief's needless

and sentimental acts, ridiculous forms—
from the tiny chanteuse whom she loved more than
her two eyes and more than you, Catullus—loved all
the way to tonight, this full moon in Los Angeles,

my sparrow asleep in her white cage, her lover flown away.
David dead. Veil Venus is what you said, veil the figures of
conquest in love, veil the image of love itself—for it mocks grief
in its swaggering, is that it? I want to know what lies between

love and grief—I want to know why we thought we'd live forever,
he and I—so unequipped for eternity with our bad jokes, domestic
strife. Caught between love and grief, the Queen of Tragedy
touches her brow, starts up again and everyone, Catullus,

I mean everyone, tells her to shut the fuck up.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.