July 1, 2022

‘Eileithyia, reliever, goddess of childbirth, on the occasion of the birth of the demigod Minos by mortal Europe’ LRB December 2, 2021

My father told me to go back to my hometown,
the cave of Amnisos, and wait for a woman,
that she would need me. I knew what it meant –
he had impregnated another deadly whore.
I reluctantly returned to Crete. All
was as before, the same crude symbolism –
the narrow entrance to the cave, short stalactites
nibbling the roof in rows, the mother-child stone
drip more and more mineral drip.
For once, I felt at home. I lit the fires,
boil water, prepared and soaked
the necessary herbs, arranged the oil and wool,
sampled the many types of votive honey
left here in my absence, spoke in
the soft ears of bats and waited. She did not come.
Maybe she was too proud to ask for help,
too ignorant to know where to go,
or maybe she just didn’t want to live.
Finally I heard her screams from afar
and I found the girl my father left behind,
about sixteen, crawling on the ground like a beast.
She stepped back when she saw me for a goddess,
showing his teeth and cursing the gods,
then vomit phlegm on the next pain
hugged her in his vise. There is nothing to do
in his slum – no fires lit, no rags, no oil.
I swept her up and took her back to Amnisos,
felt her tighten in my arms, that pain.
Twice she has soiled herself. I took pity on her then
the wretch, a demigod trying to make his way,
rearranging his deadly little bones.
When we reached the cave, I sat her on the birthing stool
and made him drink – tincture of mugwort and myrrh –
then got to work massaging her canal
then the belly, pushing in motion with its pains
as I held his perineum. His native waters broke,
volcanic, hot and precipitous to reach the river,
and then the child burst; I barely caught him cause he jumped
in my hands, red and slippery, still on.
It was his, my father’s – the usual warmth,
the usual golden shine. She didn’t want to watch.
I cut the navel with a clean shard,
gave him the chaste tree to drink, to loosen
childbirth, salted and cleaned the baby
three times, oiled his eyes, mouth and ears,
uncorked his anus, chuckled on his perfect members.
When I turned around she had slipped off the birthstool
on the ground, half-seated, head awkwardly raised,
his white eyeballs rolled to the roof of the cave
its lower half collapsed into a red pool;
and yet his body continued to empty
trying to wash in the blood.
Her lips were almost black in the whey of her face.
I cursed my dad and ran to get some ice cream, I packed it up
as far as I could reach and chatted with Artemis
keep the girl. Finally the bleeding stopped.
Europa slept for two days but did not die.
During this time I prayed and fed the baby with honey water,
sang all the old lullabies. The afternoon
from the second day I turned around and saw that she was awake
and stretched out his hand to the child. I swore to protect her
and put him in her arms. There were two more
upcoming births, each as bad as this one,
but she knew how to find me, at the time,
I would be better prepared, and she was brave.