Drafting: “Scylla”

Since I last wrote a poem about Charybdis, it seemed fitting to try to write about her counterpart: Scylla.

Less is known about Scylla, but the story I like the most for is she had piqued the fancy of Glaucus, a sea-god. Unfortunately for her, Circe (known also from The Odyssey), a sorceress, also loved Glaucus.

When he spurned Circe for Scylla, Circe retaliated by poisoning the sea water where Scylla bathed. She was “transformed into a monster with four eyes, six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which contained three rows of sharp teeth. Her body consisted of twelve tentacle-like legs and a cat’s tail while four to six dog-heads ringed her waist.” Needless to say, her love affair with Glaucus ended. 

She took up shop across from Charybdis, and sailors had the choice of driving their boat into a whirlpool , or being grabbed up and eaten by Scylla.

I pulled several words from Rochelle Hurt’s lovely poem “Infants of the Field” from Crab Orchard Review‘s Winter/Spring 2013 issue to form a word bank that I’d use for drafting this poem:

salt licks; creek; pied; starlings; bunting; death-bitten

From there, I added a couple of phrases that I’d heard and been tossing around:

chicken wire; den window

It begins,

“I’ve entered this poem by way of chicken wire and salt, the promise of a creek behind the house that doesn’t dry up a mile down.”

From there, the poem was really…country. Lots of chicken and farm references, and I don’t ever want to stick too close to the original myth, but I did want some hints of it, and all the farm stuff was really pulling away from that. So I changed “death-bitten” to “sea-bitten” and dropped off the “licks” after salt.

Bunting was a little tough for me, but I loved the sound of it and the meaning of a loosely woven fabric. It made sense for me to connect it to her future appearance (twelve tentacles and two arms). Keats has a poem titled “TO—(‘What Can I Do to Drive Away’)” with the line, “Touch has a memory,” and that worked for me in shaping maybe how her monstrous form was also an extension of her desires:

“I want more hands for a bunting of it.”

Happy writing! I’m glad to feel like I’m sort of in the swing of it again. We’ll see if I’m able to stick with it!

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