Pygmalion And Galatea

Travis Helms

"In the meantime he sculpted ivory happily … and gave it form … and he fell in love with his own work … He wonders at her and drinks in passionate fires … gives her kisses and he thinks kisses are returned. He speaks and he holds the work and thinks his fingers are sinking into the limbs and is afraid lest a bruise arise on the touched limbs …"

— Ovid, Metamorphoses Book X


I hear the moon-bathed breakers cradling the bay
below, where bright ships may be riding out, their masts
keeping keels even — pushing past the disproportioned heels
of Hercules, while all this island’s vastness’s cast in sleep.


I dream of you again, and lie awake, silken curtains
wringing in the hazardous obsession — as when,
a boy in Kindergarten, up in the Attic, I’d let
myself collect the glossy dross of catalogues, would pour
over those rougey rusings: the variegated lips, the drip of
oily hips and hiding eyes that montaged into one …

Tight, the pillow’s grip (as now I nothing hold) lain
diagonal, alone, sheets cast tangled at my ankles,
the window above my headboard open day and
every evening to the wind. I go to sleep with salt
upon my skin; and wake to taste of salt again.


Each morning he descends the cliff, and swims out to the brink
of brined exhaustion: wash of lactic acid, lightened limbed
intoxication. I climb home without clothes, and work, yet
wet, within the studio. I sweat and breathe the salt breeze in
(taming dreams we once named discipline).


Oh enter — vision, dream, or muse: help me know how
to finish you.


Days stone moans for the homing hammer.
Weeks form yearns for the chisel’s tensile press.
this sculpture wants some feel of full-fledged steel.
my shape yet aches for taste — to please
release — and then
| against one temple’s strictness:
suppliance of two moved fingers’ singling caress |
your cheek to rest upon my wrist, my fore-arm, clavicle …
this cheek, my own neck — sense
beneath the silken shift
of breath
below the surface — flesh — unsure … if skin — or stone alone …
if lithic limbs could burnish with — could blossom from — a kiss.


We watch the toss of hair from off our marble skin:
the sheets
strike off this match-booked skin translucent to the touch:
the folds
and burnished, hollowings of bone:
the organ pump
of lungsas if of sheenest wings

I prayed, so many days,
over the stone —
and in the surface sheen seemed half-
way like someone drowning

like me — like Shelley if they’d got to him
who clutches at the wreckage he half willed …

(Hush… )

— this vanity has eye-gouged me: has dragged me down beneath
a sea — like all uncertainty — this draping sheet falling: is awake

the day the polished statue breaks and all opaqueness fades.


First, the pressured freshness — yes, the feel of
flesh at rest against the soundness of the round.
Pull the low limbs down
: watch the topmost
tinder topple. Attendance of the trees still sees
you, as hand on hand you hew it to the ground

(This is too much for you to apprehend…)
— But this: say this, emptied of every image, this:
‘A blossomed birch branch peeling back its skin
as if one way we knew of to begin.’


of the winter sun, post factum, streamed like an antique dream
upon our broken open bay, like music from the sun-

clean streets, sifting in and settling in incandescent
pools on the sheets. It made our breathing seem to sing

The heart

hammering within me then — like vaultings of a madman
who stands over the altar — the swinging of the feeling,
leveling, aloft — the passion pendular, relentless,
the head’s promise to demolish any fear …

on peeling, sun kissed hands
that felt my massing hands
tell of visions
like ancient frescoes
into dust:
exposed to oxidization of our flesh’s touch
rent real: and healed.


I prayed over the face within the stone. The stone said no.
So many days, I prayed upon the face above the stone.
The face said yes
—and gazed away—and faded —and made fade
frail saving fixtures that the head constructs (this scaffolding
of birch still green

I need a greater grasp of you: a float to
clutch at in the wash of loss: these bone-soaked tones and
wreckage of the head …

But then —and yet—you said to my no
(I say to your no) no …
And quickened,
fabrications in this marble
And worlds unfurled.
And warmed
that moment all our dawn

as entered as recovered flesh again amen let learn.

An Episcopal priest, Helms directs LOGOS Poetry Collective, a 'liturgically-inflected' reading series + community that congregates in an Austin brewery. His PhD thesis on American theopoetics is forthcoming from Pickwick / Wipf & Stock. His work has appeared in, The New Haven Review, North American Review, Book 2.0, and elsewhere.

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