The Trammel Net
You have beckoned me to your throne, for Oizys called upon you -- though I should not have beckoned her to hear my curses or allowed her to report to you when my fire exhausted to ash. Please refrain from retrieving Aphrodite’s scales. I ask only to sit on that oak stump within the gates of your mountain sanctuary -- where gardens of sleeping hyacinth droop over your worn path, and silver bees in their hives dream of only purple and rose and nectar-- so that I can share my case of love, unrequited.
I have come a long way from the shore; from the sea. As people of the land sway on the waters, I find myself stumbling on firmament.
Thank you, Anteros. I shall sit on this stump, at your request.
Yet, my Lord; who is that warrior sleeping near that old, stone bench? Is he, too, a god? For, the reposed soldier has many weapons of strange metals, and his arms and head and might are thrice that of a man. He endows a glow too magnificent to see but by a brief glance of the eye. Ah, the lyre. I think I know who he is, for his lyre is set by his stilled body and his laurels have slipped from his head and rested on his massive, bare shoulder. He is Apollo, and he is not sleeping. He is deep in his rumination of his Spartan lover. This, his tears first presented years ago as they seeded your sanctuary with hyacinth; and, further he indicates this treasured memory as he draws his finger along your wet clay to write the name of the Spartan from long ago.
Shall I stay, Anteros, though you have Apollo's heart to mend? I will not take too much of your invaluable time. If you must ignore my wish to be blessed, then please allow me to stay and beg you to correct a wrong that I have committed.
I am an old man in spirit, though I am much younger by age. I am hardened, yet vulnerable, hopeless and sanguine. I do not know which face greets you, but I was once considered a most handsome man. As you might know -- for you are a god -- my trade is the sea; and the sea ages men quicker than those of the land. I am told Worry prefers to dwell in the seaman's head, and Poseidon is unforgiving whence angered by a worried man's error in sail and rudder -- or the premature departure from a safe harbor. Yet, if I may be so bold, will you permit me to think of my presence before you, if old or young, handsome or rattled; that I am still worthy to be blessed by your grace? So that I may still be found desirable by a lover's eye, and my spirit still most pleasant to reveal one's heart?
I am sure that I need to be both freed and captured by another's need or want. I am so alone and rarely befriended. Yet, I am not here for just my desire to be desired. I am here to also correct a wrong.
As the seller of fresh sea food, I tend to my own trade and personally feed the agoras and sell to the rich trader. Often, I must leave the sea to find the markets of distant lands, and I sacrifice precious time from the catch to do so. I net sardine, mostly, yet if a land dweller so wishes, I search and find the octopus; might even hook for the spine-breaking fish. I am my own faculty, so when I cast my net in the midnight hours, I do so alone unless I have the rare chance of sharing the deck in good company. My deck is rarely softened with another set of feet. I am often lonely, Anteros; as you are aware, for the sea is too wide and is certainly too deep. So, when I am exhausted at the break of dawn and before I retire, I always give sacrifice to Poseidon; but I give fair sacrifice to you - if not more so to you.
Yesterday, I swore to do more than to offer my catch to you. I swore to myself that I would come to you and ask you properly for a blessing -- and to bid a deep request. For, I am not here just for my own benefit. I have cursed someone who should not be cursed.
The midnight sky is its own sea. As I cast and draw my net into the hidden shoals far from the harbor below, I can often see the torches along this very trail that leads mortals and Gods to your sanctuary. It winds and rises and disappears behind shadowed valleys, and I have gazed upon it for so many years that I can see the path with my eyes closed. I never thought that I would take this pilgrimage until my heart was stolen by ---. I must not mention his name. You, no doubt, know him, for in my terrible curses aplenty, he is the one whom I have accused of squandering my heart and hope. I am certain Oizys has revealed all to you, and that is what I fear most -- even more than my wish to find new companionship.
It is your right to ignore my wishes. You are a judge of eros; you have the sole right to enact. Please, Anteros... before you weigh this scorned man's worth, please hear me out.
It is true that your brother Eros had found me some months ago, though Pheme no doubt sent a rumor that Eros regretted his careless sting. He was beckoned to do so, by a curious yet jealous god; a god who revealed to me in my sleep that he had been watching me for some months. He is one of the many sons of Petraeus the Elder, whom I still cannot say his name, and he had decided to follow me one particular morning to settle his curiosity. I would take my fish to the agora in the foothills as I always do, collect my due and hurry back down to the shore (where I have more solid footing on the sea than I do the land). He divulged that I was becoming a nuisance more than a curiosity, and that he would strive to resolve the issue once and for all. He asked me why I always run to the sea after selling my catch; why I never look upon the handsome men of this land; why I never stop to share with them a drink -- even when offered; and why I ignored the want of their widened eyes as I scrambled across the pier's many decks to get to my small vessel; and why I wiped away the beads of sweat from my forehead, thankful to have escaped to my solitude. What justified my strange and disappointing behavior, he demanded to know.
I felt myself fall to my knees. I stuttered, for I could not immediately find the words. No matter, my answer was unsatisfying to him. I told him that I sacrificed to you, Anteros, out of hopelessness more than from want. I told him that I was tired of broken promises, of stolen time, of sleepless nights. I told him that I was weary of consulting my grief to Oizys, and I told him... I trusted no man of the land, nor of the sea; that I was now more certain than ever that I wanted only to taste the salt of the sea and sway on my hammock, alone.
As you know, Anteros; the god revealed his anger and tossed me about my vessel. "You have no right to shun Kairos!" he roared and left me trembling against my pile of netting; but suddenly with a deep ache in my head and fire in my chest. He had cursed me, and I knew instantly that I now desired to return to the shore and seek out a man whom I had seen many times near the dock.
Handsome! Pleasing. Gentle, yet bold! He was an elixir of bull and cherub: his lovemaking a labor of love; his tenderness a pillow of dreams. He fulfilled the hours of our binding by unpredictable measure -- though never without satisfaction. Even when we only spoke with only our hands clasped did he make my nights worthy of a thousand days' netting. I had never been so blessed! Many nights I stayed in the port awaiting his arrival, failing my duty to feed the agoras and depleting my trust in the need for Poseidon for fear that I might miss my new love’s visitations. Or, worse; the fear that if I depart for the sea that I might drown in a gale on my way back to port and, thus, break his heart and torture his want wandering ports many a night searching for me and without rest.
So, this is true, dear Anteros. I happily -- and greedily -- traded Poseidon’s salt for this man’s sea. Never had I been so intoxicated! So much in need!
And, most pleasantly of all, my new love faithfully committed his passion. If he could not promise a night visit -- Oh! Those miserable absences! -- my lover would send a messenger to inform me so that I would not fear the worst. Yet, he warned me; never could I search and find him; never could I visit his home. Never must I leave the harbor in order to find him. Of course, I agreed. I had no reason to question it. I had him most nights. He sent his messenger on the lesser nights. For, I knew he had a family. He told me of them, and I knew them well enough as if I had always known them. For you must know, Anteros; however, committed my lover was to me, he adored his wife and children and could never stray from his duties to them.
So, now you ask me, Anteros, what was I to him? Oh, dear God. Must you ask this of me? For; I do not wish to know the answer -- if it suggests to me only a vessel to fill his time and need; or suffices my eros as only to savor his lust. But, no; it must not be either. I know him too well. He remains in my blood. I am sure that is why I come here, to impart... to right the curses that I had committed to you in my prayers of him. May I have a moment to give this some thought? The question you put forth?
What was I to him?
Anteros. I know the answer. I see Apollo cross out the Spartan's name only to smooth the clay and begin writing his name again. I see a single hyacinth fall to the ground as if burdened with new tears.
I know what I was to my lover.
I was a hope that came to flesh with my lover's beckoning. I was the sea that he could traverse without fear of drowning. I was an isle he could escape to under the veil of restless nights. I was the man he could never have in his own bed, yet the man he could always discover in mine. Until….
Until, he no longer sought my company. Until, without warning, without cause, his absence became routine, and I feared he had been drowned by docks! I called out for him between the other vessels and among the rocks and among the drunken men and women who gathered at the stores near the shore. I waited for yet another start and close of the day; and then, I hugged my vessel along the shores for weeks!
My lover came no more. I had to find out why!
I went to the agora and asked the villagers where he lived. Some knew him -- and they said he was an important man of business -- and told me where I would find his large home. I lost my way wandering the unfamiliar streets, having not walked those streets since I was a child. I found his residence, and... confirmed his residence was, indeed, many rooms and levels. But once there, I found his family. He, a wealthy merchant; she, quite beautiful and elegantly dressed. Yet, he was not present. His wife said that she did not know of his business affairs; that he was gone and often. I turned to leave, but her gentle hand touched my neck and, sweetly, she asked if I wished to wait for his return -- or wished for his comfortable bed to rest. I did not take the offer.
Anteros! I could not answer! For, she was too innocent and immensely gracious. For, his children were too lovely and playful on the rug. For, that home was too permanent and too strange to ever make room for a man like me. My lover never would have kept me so treasured, so permanently rooted as he had done them!
Instantly, Phthonos overcame me, and I was furious that my lover ever lived so happily without me! Yet, when the small hand of his youngest child pressed against my knee... when I cuffed her graceful chin in my trembling, calloused palm... when her dazzling and precious eyes met mine... I then saw my lover looking back at me -- and I hated him! He was a provider who had priorities greater than me. He was a man with too much to cherish and too much to protect than to ever have spent precious time searching the docks for a man of the sea.
I would leave them quickly, ashamed of myself and the eros that I felt for the man of that home, but not before I gave his youngest child with the most familiar eyes a coin and asked her to make sacrifice to you, Anteros -- knowing that I seeded in her the truth of my visit; hoping that the truth would reach the blameless ears of her mother somehow, some day. She said that she would do so -- even repeated your name in a whisper -- and I had hoped you did receive it well, just the same. I wanted to hurt my lover. I hated him so! I swore to never set foot on land again beyond the length of port-to-agora. And, I swore I would someday seek your vengeance, for my lover was not only a thief unto me, but a gambler of a most precious commodity!
Still...! With much guilt, I still longed for his return to my vessel; if not to embrace him under cruel judgment of the Pleiades on the gentle roll of Poseidon's pillow, then entangle myself with him and his lying kisses that could nevermore justify his presence and could nevermore satisfy his leaving.
I hated Nyx and her false promises with each recall of Helios's rays. I seethed in my hatred, too; swore at the paucity of my net and its frequent shredding upon the rocks -- and I cursed the sea nymphs for their cruel jokes as each tear escaped more fish. I dithered to mend the tearing, preferring to seethe instead. I prayed to Poseidon to capsize the vessel that my lover might be found-- for I was sure he still visited the port for a richer man than me -- or a younger one more ignorant than me. I chose to stay in my hammock some nights and throw knives at the tent's post. And, if I did sleep, then even Oizys refrained from haunting my dreams, for the fires of my hatred made no room for her to paint her gloom. However,....
This evening, when I thought to plummet into the depths where the nymphs circled my bent vessel and had already stolen by a strong wave what little bounty I could catch; Pasithea wrapped her arms about my waste and begged me to seek my shredded tent -- to forget my lost netting -- and escape the shivering rain and the gnashing teeth of those hideous nymphs about my vessel; and to pray for my keep instead.
I did as she asked. Pasithea guided me into my hammock where I agreed to take to the arms of Morpheus. Yet, as usual, Hypnos had yet to visit, for Poseidon still roamed too close and stirred the sea in his wake. And, as I expected, Oizys -- who searches for company when Hypnos fails to visit -- crashed onto my vessel and spilled herself into my tent -- and finally took to climbing up to my bed and lying by my side. She whispered gently in my ear as she shared my pillow. I heard her retelling the stories of my lover and how I once shared in his warmth. Shen then told me to close my eyes and sent me wandering -- and alone did she have me go through a labyrinth of what if and if only and what could have been; and what that man had done to me. She convinced me to share with you, Anteros, my hurt. She convinced me that you must know my curses and my pleas for revenge. She then demanded me to look out my tent -- for the evening sky will clear, she claimed-- and she was certain my plea would be heard by you if I were to take it to your sanctuary.
Anteros? I must know. Did you hear my prayers just then?
Did you compel Selene to breach my tent at that moment? For, it came unlatched. Did you have her cast her luminous net over my naked body and expose my aloneness? For I was barely skin and bone. Did you then beckon me from my small and fruitless vessel to seek your justice in this affair? For, all I wanted to do was find you.
I returned to port two days later; my sail breached with a dozen tears. I tied my vessel – it was barely afloat -- and crossed the village as the fire smoke thinned in the late hour. I took to the olive-ladened hills where your path began and, for the first time in my life, set foot onto your mountain’s spine. As the worn path wound about the perimeter, each step was a painful pull in my legs. I rested at a ledge where I looked out over the village and onto the port and could see my poor vessel tucked between far larger and richer ones. Though I could never know, I was certain one of them held my former lover and, soon, would receive his ballast. I spat over the edge -- felt better doing so -- and I hurried up the path with renewed hate to seek your justice!
Yet, where the stone path turned to earth, and the torches stabbed into the mountain were few and nearly extinguished by the forest shadows, I heard the thunder of water some steps ahead that gave me pause. There, clearly at the falls, I saw a young woman -- her skin pale, her eyes wet and dripping a blue hue, and her white robe covered in mud. When she saw me watching her, she hid like a frightened child behind heavily worked stones that Hephaestus had left abandoned from some nearby quarry. I told myself to move along, but I hesitated and then asked the poor woman if she was lost.
She then repeated what I had asked her. Confused, I asked her if she needed any help. She then repeated what I had just asked her. I pressed my hand against my chest and declared, "I am Abascantus." She stepped towards me and repeated: "I am Abascantus."
I knew who she was. The woman was the nymph Echo, and she was addled in mourning. She came no closer to me, and I knew she would never go far from the river, for it was her prison as well as her sanctuary. Suffice to say, Anteros; as I passed Echo with my head bent in sympathy, I immediately met the river’s crossing; the river fed by the narrow meadows of your sanctuary and the one that drained poor Echo of hers. As I searched for a proper bridge made of stone and cut trunks of trees, I heard Echo wail and then praise the greatness of a man whom I could not see. As I returned to where I had found her, she was bent over a pile of white bones at the river’s bank by the time her praise echoed back to her. I understood that the pile of bones was once Narcissus; where he had long ago been entranced by his own beauty; and where the poor nymph could never be freed of it and him.
I understood her eros that lingered in the heart. But I did not want to feel it. Desperate for revenge, I raced to your meadows to seek the punishment of my neglectful and irresponsible lover! I crossed the river as Echo's sobs grew weaker than the river’s disharmony and slipped a half-dozen times in the cold water. Once on the other side, I found myself passing the stone blocks and refuse of an old empire: Hephaestus’s quarry that built Mt. Olympus!
The canyon was uneven in width, yet always too deep to cross. A carving in a boulder pointed to a bridge around a bend. The bridge was made of old rope, and I questioned their strength. Yet, from this point, I could see your sanctuary, Anteros; clearly lit in green, purple, and blue lights from deep inside the meadow’s breach. With some reluctance, I took to the bridge. Each step was carefully laid. I refused to look down. Yet, as I neared the middle of it, I heard a terrible thunder to my right where a great cloud illuminated over the forest with dancing silver and golden slithers of light. Seemingly as sharp as knives, the light cut a path through the pines and scraggly oaks breaking their limbs and pulling up their roots as it moved in bizarre rotational motions.
Anteros! I saw the most unforgivable thing!
A large bird the width of the Parthenon was gliding over the quarry's canyon giving birth to a tempest that swung the rope bridge to and fro and that I now struggled to clutch. As it flew nearer, I saw a young man -- or a boy? was clutched tightly in its hideous talons. The bird then lingered momentarily above me, as if to show me its prized possession. I realized the golden-haired boy-- his face wet with tears -- was looking down at me in a tired melancholy as his captor flapped its wings above us. The beautiful, sad boy took the opportunity to reach down to me, as if to beg me to grab him and rescue him. Just as I bid his request, the raptor took off with a shriek and flew towards the west where rainclouds hid the heights of a mountain chain at the horizon's thin line of orange dusk. Warily, I continued crossing the quarry and only stopped to expel a sickness that welled up from inside the pit of my stomach. For; I was saddened and disgusted to have witnessed the abduction of Ganymede. I understood the recognition of beauty; and the desire to possess it. Yet, I was mortified and ashamed of the latter and wanted to rid myself of that poison!
And here, I now sit in your gardens bathed in dirt and sweat and unworthy of its magnificence. Yet, I am now here for something that I did not first come to seek. Because of your kindness, you have offered to bathe me clean with your pity. Yet, Anteros; I would rather you regard me in a different light – and not as a scorned and disparaged lover – but as a man who has made a terrible mistake in his accusations. I did my lover a great wrong. He is the one who has been betrayed.
As had the Spartans deduced, the love between men can be commemorated in its devotion and sincerity, by its legends and anecdotes-- or, as in my case, measured in the moments before a love must come to its end for the sake of another. If you can read my heart -- as I know you can -- then my history is revealed before you. I have discovered passion within the arms of treasured men wearing strange jewels and ornate metals of their faraway lands -- only to be stolen of my meager possessions when fallen to sleep on pillowed words, or left tied to their lies or even sent adrift from their harbors. I have collapsed my tired head on many a layered chest of muscle and bone -- only to be awakened by that beating drum against my ear and its inevitable song of their departure by Hybris, or by Dionysus’s libations, or by the war trumpets of Ares. I have been carried on waves stirred by men as they were rising to their greatness or were plummeting to their infamy -- only to grant another man his ceremony or his commiseration by false hope or fearful desperation.
Anteros. I realize more than ever, for Epimetheus must have followed me on the trail, that eros is of many forms and colors -- several magnitudes of dedication and layers of beauty and charm and meaningful touch -- if forever in legend and dedication eros lives, or hideously unjust in it’s strict and selfish resolutions. Since my trek to your sanctuary, I have learned much about eros, and of myself. The eros that I need is neither Echo’s lonely worship and lingering of Narcissus, nor Zeus’s want and pillage of Ganymede. The eros that I need is not Apollo’s sad longing and culpability; nor do I need eros to contract a binding resolution with another man's heart.
I need only eros that is honest in its longevity or briefness; tender in its caressing touch, even at its leaving. I need only the eros that visits my small vessel and places me in the hands of Caerus; and not betray the duty owed to another one's heart. I need only an eros that is true, yet fails in innocent ways.
I had poisoned the well of my lover's home. I have done wrong in so many ways, by so many weapons. He was true to me, when my vessel was wanting. He meant no harm brought to his family; he deserved no visit from Pheme, nor of me. He is too kind to have wished such destruction. He is only a man who makes the mistakes that good men sometimes make. My curse of him to you is unworthy of a case. So, Anteros....
I offer you a bargain -- if a mortal could ever do. Either find me guilty of treason, or please set your club back onto its mantle and dissolve this court brought by my own jealousy. I ask that you allow Poseidon to determine the final judgment of men like me. I ask that you remember my lover's gifts to his wife and family.
Set my lover free. Set him free, if not for him, then for his home. Let Eros find him however He must do; and Dionysus even less. Whatever eros I am blessed or eros I am cursed; whomever Eros has stricken or Tyche has set adrift by whim; whatever meager moments the Horae have arranged; whatever arrives with Gaea’s bountiful fish: forgive my lover of his transgression. The merchant Pherecydes, son of Morys, is a flawed, yet good man.
What of me? You ask me such a question? I am not worthy to answer you. So, I won't even--- forgive me. Of course, I will answer you; I meant no disrespect.
Anteros, my Lord, my Judge.
I ask you to not concern yourself with me, but of the hundreds of men like me. Please refrain from avenging those of us whose love is gained and lost at sea. You must understand, the sea is our truest love.
Yes, when Helios and his steeds arrive -- from afar on rolling salt, I can see the colors of land, and it is so strange and surreal and plentiful! But know what my heart reveals, that even here on your blessed firmament where I kneel among your waking hyacinth as your humming silver bees now search purple and rose; where Apollo has now ceased drawing his lover's name into your clay and has long ago fixed his laurel straight and took to the hunt; my Master, Great Poseidon, beckons me!
Thank you, Anteros. I accept your judgment. I think it is fair, and I understand the rules that your brother Eros has just set forth in the contract. So, I pray to you, Anteros, before I return to fix my sail and reset my hammock; mend my netting and grease the rutter. I will present this contract to Poseidon's court, with my prayer.
Grant me Oizys -- for she knows me well. Grant me Nyx to greet me at the close of day. Grant me Oceanus who will never drain. And, Beautiful, Terrible, Hopeful Eros.... Grant me fine netting to cast the depths of men: netting that catches and tangles; netting that tears and releases; and netting in need for the mend.