The Face of Agamemnon by Bethany W Pope

Wine can live five-hundred years, away from air,
to die upon your baffled tongue. A face
can wait, preserved and perfect, behind the seal
of a tomb, to fall to ash beneath the quiet
gust of your gasp. Not every wine lives,
its neck stoppered with wax. Exposure to air
breeds bitterness, distilling treasure
to a foul liqueur. Not every slain royal
waits behind a golden mask. Forty
years ago, a woman went missing
in Swindon, as so many women do.
Her husband sent postcards to her friends,
signed in her name, which he mailed from Wales.
There wasn’t much of a search. He married
again, sold the house in Old Town. Years passed,
in the wind. Blood burned in his veins, fed
by the bellows of his lungs. His hair
greyed to ash. No bottle holds a cork
forever, no secret can be kept.
The archaeologists were searching
for etched clay flasks, stone archer’s braces,
flint shards hewn to scrape the tendons from deer
skins. Instead, they uncovered the lost oil
cask. Heinrich Schliemann, in his haste, wrenched open
the Treasury of Atreus and wrecked
the body of a king. This man (his hands
still smelling of garden soil and the remains
of his sandwich) sheared open the side
of a rusted steel drum and revealed
the perfect contours of a decades-
dead cheek. She stared out of the soil in her
living terror, preserved and well-casked,
until time blew into her grave and sluiced
her face to a slurry of green ruin.
After too long in the dark, sunlight
can be a bitter revelation.
The truth, when it comes, will burn us out.


Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as ‘poetry as salvation’…’This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.’ Her poetry collections include: A Radiance (Cultured Llama, 2012), Crown of Thorns (Oneiros Books, 2013), The Gospel of Flies (Writing Knights Press 2014), Undisturbed Circles (Lapwing, 2014) , The Rag and Boneyard (Indigo Dreams 2016), and Silage (Indigo Dreams, 2017).  Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016.

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