POEM: Nine bows and an offering of honey

Panprosdexia by Cierra Williams

Panprosdexia, darkness in fire and fire in darkness,
pours honey into darkness for the suffering, for the trapped,
walking the worlds without gender, without partner,
without sexuality, until all are brought home to the light.
Sometimes they cross ways with Jizo Bosatsu,
Ksitigarbha, the Earth Treasure, bodhisattva known
by his jingling staff and wish-fulfilling jewels,
visiting the hell realms and taking care of sentient beings
until Maitreya takes over from Shakyamuni.


From the Barque of Millions of Years Lucius Marius Vitalis
looks down and sees the deaths of young people, boys
and girls and others, the suicides of despair because
their genders were denied, their sexuality condemned.
Sometimes he brings honey to Panprosdexia and
they work together, visiting the dark bars or reaching out
through the internet to those who hide in their bedrooms,
unreached by light or by the faces of companionship
except through the glowing screen. He would like to do more.


In a pure land full of beautiful gay men and strong proud lesbians
who followed the Dharma, Issan Dorsey Roshi stands up
from his meditation and thinks of those still dying of AIDS;
thinks of those trapped in prison, trying to practice Dharma
or blot Thor or celebrate Samhain; thinks of the drag queens
and the leather butches and the nonbinary kids, and goes
looking for Ksitigarbha. Sometimes he crosses paths
with Lucius Marius Vitalis, a good-looking Roman kid,
and if they weren’t so busy trying to save the world
maybe they’d sit down and have a drink, but there’s time
to make time later, when everybody is home in a pure land.

Nine bows and an offering of honey to Panprosdexia,
to Ksitigarbha,
to Lucius Marius Vitalis,
to Issan Dorsey Roshi.


FICTION: A leisurely cruise through the stars, part nine

Antinous dressed for dinner in simple contemporary clothes: A deep red henley that clung to the curves of his chest and shoulders and trousers that clung as determinedly to the curves of his thighs and buttocks. He slipped his feet into a pair of Italian loafers and contemplated his image in the looking-glass, running his hands through freshly washed hair.

“Vain boy,” Hadrian said, passing by with Sabina on their way to the dining hall.

Antinous fluttered his lashes, making Sabina laugh and Hadrian grumble. He had had a long converse with Lucius that included soaking in the baths, fucking in Lucius’ cabin, and showering off after a nap; he was feeling relaxed, happy to have Lucius and Sabina and Hadrian and so many who were dear to him on board the Barque, and excited at the chance for a more intimate conversation with Melinoe, the daughter of Persephone and foster-daughter of Hel.

Hermes himself had come bearing the request that Antinous convey the young goddess from the realm of her foster-mother, lady of the dead in the north, back to the realm of Hades where her parents ruled. Yet though he carried the herald’s staff, the request had been a true request, coming from Persephone, not an order from Zeus or any higher authority. Of course he was happy to oblige; one of the things he enjoyed most about godhood was being the captain of a travelling party in the afterlife. The Barque was a joyful home for the blessed dead in itself and also a transport to any place within the other worlds, and Antinous had found himself a welcome visitor to almost every port.

Satisfied that he looked both sufficiently godly and sufficiently on point, as the youth were saying in the earthly realms, Antinous went to the private dining room by way of the kitchens, making sure that the dinner was in readiness. He was lighting the lamps himself when Melinoe arrived at his door.

“My lady.” He bowed. “May I say that you flatter the dress you have chosen to wear?”

“My thanks to you.” Melinoe tiptoed into the room. “I modeled it after something I saw down below. However, I may be regretting adopting the shoes.”

Her feet were clad in glittering high-heeled sandals with heel and ankle straps–very on point, but difficult to walk in if one were unused to the style. They went well, however, with her gown: A fitted frock of nearly sheer violet stuff with an applique of birds and blossoms in vivid hues that covered her from breast to thigh. Her hair fell loosely over her shoulders, smelling of cinnamon and myrrh.

“Please, sit down,” Antinous gestured to the table, “and don’t hesitate to slip those shoes off–I won’t be looking under the table to scold if you do!”

Smiling, the goddess took her seat at the small round table for two. Antinous lit the last two lamps on their stands and took his seat as well. Small candles burned between them, kindling lights in the colors of his guest’s gown, in her wide grey eyes, in her glossy black and white hair.

“I thought it might please you to sample some foods you have not, I think, had in a long while,” Antinous said. He cleared his throat. “I have ordered a tasting menu of foods from Greece and around the Mediterranean Sea, with local wines.”

“That sounds delicious,” the goddess said. He was struck, not for the first time, by the brightness and happiness of her face, the sheer enthusiasm she radiated. In his experience, most of the deities of the underworlds were more solemn, dealing as they did with human loss and grief, with the multitudes of the deceased and the greater multitudes of those who had not been properly honored at death and wandered restlessly through all the worlds. The realm of Hel was notoriously somber even amongst the lands of death, yet Melinoe had come out of her long fostering there with a smile on her face.

A server arrived with the first course of food, diverting Antinous from gazing at his guest. “Here we have tzatziki, made of cucumber and fresh sheep’s-milk yogurt seasoned with garlic, mint, and dill. This is hummus, made from chickpeas, sesame, garlic, and olive oil. This dish is melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant mixed with tomatoes, yogurt, garlic, and herbs. And finally, we have fresh vegetables and toasted pita bread to dip.”

While Melinoe was exclaiming over the variety of spreads, another server arrived and set down two tall plain modern glasses for water and two heavy glass goblets made in the Roman fashion, the richly figured and colored stuff that Hadrian had been proud of on his tables. A third server filled the modern vessels with water and the goblets with a golden wine.

“This is retsina,” Antinous said, lifting his goblet. “It’s white wine flavored with pine resin. Long ago it was created by accident when mortals used pine resin to seal their wine jugs, but they still drink it for the flavor. I drank quite a lot of it in my hometown and have never lost the taste.” He raised the goblet toward Melinoe. “To your health, lady!”

“To your health!”

They both drank. Antinous watched the goddess sip carefully and savor the pungent taste.

“It pairs very well with the food before us,” he said, when she smiled and made no comment. “Please, guests should eat first.”


Hymn XXIII: To the Treiskouroi

Where the people of Antinous gather, three youths
are honored above all: Antinous, the god, deified
in Egypt, worshipped throughout the Empire;
Polydeukion, the hero, revered by his family,
wise and generous child; Lucius Marius Vitalis,
athlete and scholar, first among the sancti.

Antinous we revere for his beauty, for the love
that he gave and received, and for his holy death,
by which the gods of Egypt made him one of them.
Polydeukion we honor for his youth and gentleness;
he knew the signs and passwords and came safely
before Persephone, having drunk of Memory’s well.
Lucius we remember for his friendship with Antinous,
his tenacity in scholarship, his joy in the hunt.

As Polydeukion and Lucius praise Antinous, friend
become god, so Antinous blesses Lucius and Polydeukion,
sanctus and heros, and in praising them, we praise and
bless Antinous, too. Hail to the Treiskouroi, the three youths
of most honor, revered in Egypt, Greece, and Rome!
May they be remembered around the world, today and always!

It’s a feast day and a snow day

So I wrote another poem:

For the Treiskouroi and the Trophimoi

There’s a bunch of teenaged boys running around in my religion–
how did they get here? But this is their gym, so how did I get there,
middle-aged lady with bad knees and a bad back. Favorinus
of Arles, the Stephen Fry of his age, passes me a beer and says,
“Don’t worry about it: Just admire all this naked beauty.” There’s a God,
and a Hero, and a Sanctus; there’s a bunch of adopted kids–put down
that spear before you put someone’s eye out! It’s all fun and games
till someone gets turned into a tragic flower. Why do their parents
let them out to run around like this, there’s Antinous making eyes
at an older man, Memnon always has a bunch of bloody carcases
at hand, Lucius keeps meeting some odd-looking god with
an animal face and sticky-uppy ears. And the girls bounce around
with the boys and nobody seems to care–isn’t that anachronistic?
Does their mother know they’re out? Favorinus just laughs
at my consternation. “Here, have some chocolate. Have some
apples. Have some grapes. Go have a bath, get yourself
a massage, a good rub-down with olive oil.” Favorinus
never takes his clothes off, but he’s down to a loincloth,
and I’m a fat lady wrapped in towels. Polydeukion comes over
to give me a handful of flowers and a long speech about–
something, delivered so fast and with such mounting excitement
all I can do is shake my head. But the flowers are beautiful,
and they smell of spring. Of youth, and vitality, and a love
that can bloom for eternity.