The Sibyl at Cumae
"Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere,
et cum illi pueri dicerent: 'Sibulla, ti theleis?' respondebat illa:
'apothanein thelo.'" *
Petronius, Cena Trimalchionis
When I entered the bottle
all the birds took flight;
earth gave way underfoot and the wind
with such soft fingers lay my blown
hair light against my head.
The glass received me and thus I was
defined by its immaculate curves--
cheek, shoulder, forearm, thigh--
but very soon it warmed to me and I
could no longer tell where it ended
or where my self began.
I entered the bottle; the evening
emptied of wings. And inside, no
sound except the sound of my own
breathing, neither loud nor soft:
I had become the world
of cloud and water. I turned
in the mute air, suspended.
I wondered: Am I small? Am I
vast? Am I beautiful?
And it was only much later,
when children came wanting
to know what it was I most desired
and what the cool wings of my eyes
had finally folded on, that I heard myself
answer, for the first time: I wish to die.
* "For once I myself saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae
hanging in a bottle, and when the boys said to her:
'Sibyl, what do you want?' she replied, 'I want to die.'"
(Julia Copus was born in London in 1969. After reading Latin at
Durham, she worked as a copywriter, candlemaker, secondhand book
trader and taught English in Istanbul. She received an Eric Gregory
Award in 1994; and her first book, The Shuttered Eye, won a Poetry
Book Society Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize
for Best First Collection. She has taught Creative Writing at Warwick
University, Southampton Institute and Bolton Institute, and since 1997
has been Writer in Residence for the Borough of Blackburn with
Darwen. She is currently working on her second book. Maura Dooley has
said, "Julia Copus?s poems view some of the most turbulent moments in
life through a sharp, clear lens: mature, uncomfortably honest,