Sappho: A Voice

Katherine Gaffney


Your biography is legend like your death
     down the face
of white cliffs into the Ionian sea. You called hurricanes 
with a whisper and in that whisper felt erotic. Call out 
to Achilles as a high, blushing apple. Did you tear
 your garments in grief? Those white robes clean as the cliffs 
you stood upon as you redefined
     the poet, alone
and feeling, raw as the salt that spat back through to which the winds 
you murmured. Before you leapt you must have licked your lips 
to taste that delicious ocean once more before dying your clean
     death, metered as the crash
of the tides, and before your fall you were closer to the gods, 
closer for Aphrodite to hear you cursing her for the bittersweet 
all through your descent. You sent your body as a love letter to him. 


Lyric over the click of fish spines drawn back through teeth,
beside the lyre plucked like those fragile piscine bones. Each foot
the pluckers forgot not, for with their music verse was bread dipped 
in honey and in which listening girls became 
     bright shaking leaves who surpassed in beauty 
all mortality. Choral, coral. From the sea you rose, rosy-armed, 
were named the tenth muse. Aphrodisiacal, nectar in the cup, 
sliding down the throat, raised in you a song of Pleaides. The moon 
is round as the coins you adorn, as sweet faces, as young breasts 
     on you and your chorus of girls. How syllabic
 they stand on what the dawn light scatters, unwary of golden death
and its soft stress.
—italicized lines in this poem stem from Sappho’s poems

About the Author

Katherine Gaffney completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has previously appeared in jubilat, Harpur Palate, Mississippi Review, Meridian, and elsewhere. She has attended the Tin House’s Summer Writing Workshop, the SAFTA Residency, and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference as a scholar. Her first chapbook, Once Read as Ruin, was published at Finishing Line Press.