They fished, they wrestled,
they greased each other up,
they scraped each other down—
strigils. They fought, they
farmed, they played lyres,
flutes, they whispered
in amphitheatres which sat
twenty thousand souls
how a man killed his father
and married his mother, how
it wasn’t a particularly good idea,
the man was running down the road,
couldn’t stop. If only he could’ve
solved a riddle; what good are “if only”s?
They built temples, fattened
columns in the middle
to make them look the same
all the way up, down—entasis.
They danced on grapes, pressed
olives, sailed, slaughtered.
They made man beautiful
and woman, too, though
occasionally her arms fell off.
They invented democracy—
the whole people, Pericles said—
imposed reason, wore bedsheets.
Bore wine, water (moderation) in pleasing
shapes, amphorae—the Greeks had a word.
Everything was painted then, red,
yellow, blue, Aphrodite, Parthenon, kitchen
colors; statues, stoa, minds, all white now.


New Yorker, August 8, 2011