video: Lament
video of Marly Youmans's poem, Lament

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Marly Youmans



        c. 117 BC

      My child was found out by our Roman law
      And so “consigned to sea,” as is the way
      When citizens are born hermaphrodite
      And made “different from the human race.”
      I had my Cyprian for thirteen years,
      Until he was beset by woman’s pains,
      Until his breasts began their flowering.
      An omen, others said, a monstrous sign,
      And though he clung to me, and I to him,
      The soldiers dragged my child away from home.

      My heart was like a city sown with salt,
      Cursed and consecrated to death and grief,
      Its people borne away to slavery.

      Here is the very spot where I stood watch,
      My arm upraised till changed to stars of pain,
      The boat dwindling into far distances—
      Then a little splash and nothing more,
      My numb hand falling like a weight of stone,
      As if consigned to plumb a sea of tears.
      A skilled stonemason marked the place for me,
      Though no one sleeps inside this little tomb
      Engraved with Cyprianus—still I kneel
      To grace his name with shells and violets.