I died in Athens, thinking of my mother.
Or was I on my way to Thebes?
Difficult to say, this is a slow, forgetting place.
There was a competition, I had won —
something — a crown, a coin, a paper wreath?
Then stabbing pain — a bull’s two horns,
or a bar-tab brawl, or an Athenian lover
I hadn’t treated well — daggering my lower abdomen.
Can it have been my father’s white bull?
The one he bathed and preened? It doesn’t matter now.
After the wound, came dying: fast then slow, slow, slow.
I had doctors and staunchings and stitches and fevers,
time to dream about the sun-scorched cliffs of Crete,
the sweetness of the singing crickets,
the way the thyme would twist and bake,
how my lover’s skin smelt of it, how
when I took him in my mouth he’d grip my hair
and groan and move me to his pleasure
and forget I was the prince. Afterwards
I’d lie with my cheek on his warm chest
and watch the fish shoal in the water far below,
every stone and crab’s claw, every sea urchin’s thorn
delineated … There came a peace like that, at last,
when everything seemed clear and calm and bright,
and I was sitting on the warm stone step
with my mother, eating a dish of cold yoghurt
laced with honey, and she was singing
a soft and faraway song in her other tongue;
she laughed and mussed my hair
and blew on my nape to cool my neck.
And then I died.
Reproduced with kind permission from Times Literary Supplement.