Sirens by David R. Slavitt



There were three of them, or, some authors say, two,

with bodies either of women or feathered birds

with women’s heads, or sometimes potters had them


with bearded faces.  One of the versions supposes

that if their fatally beautiful singing failed--

as of course it did when Odysseus passed by, bound


as he was to the mast, with the oarsmen’s ears all stopped

with beeswax to make them immune—the sirens would perish. 

A hard rule, but what else can happen to magic


after it has been reduced to a mere

performance in recital and concert halls?

“Breathtaking,” we say, but still we can breathe.


So the artists should die?  But, then, alas, they will,

every one of them, however gifted.  They try,

(practice, practice) and come close to divine



perfection, but we applaud and then go home.

For writers, it’s less dramatic but we, too, try

our best, and although we do not admit it, dream


that the words will live on, that our hold on somone’s attention

here or there, may continue at random, blips

frequent enough to become a steady low tone,


not quite the song the sirens sang, but close.



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David R. Slavitt


© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas

Sirens by David R. Slavitt