Demas, in Love with This Present World

Demas, in Love with This Present World Poem By Kristin Fogdall

What you’ve heard is true—I’ve gone to Thessilonika.
I’ve taken a room above the agora with a view
of the harbor and wake too early to merchants’ voices,
bleatings of every sort, and carpets being beaten.
The innkeeper and his wife bring bread—they are kind,
and their daughter is pretty, though she has a withered hand.
At night I watch the fishing boats come in to shore,
hung with many lanterns. The men pull up their nets
and sort the catch in shifting light; they sometimes sing
a song about the moon seducing an old sailor
and drink a bit and fall asleep wrapped in their robes.
Later someone puts the lights out one by one.
In between, the days are slow, and I think of you often.
I know what some are saying, that I loved my father
and his estate more than truth and our way of life.
It wasn’t the inheritance that called me back,
and I won’t return to the assembly or his house.
Demetrius is here, asleep beside me as I write.
He has thrown one of his warm legs over me
in a dream, and two pears with a jar of wine wait
on the table for when he wakes. I wish you understood
how it feels to fear the truth while also loving him.
I still believe this present world is passing away,
but now it is impossible to rejoice with you.
Sometimes when I walk outside the city gates
and look up into the mountains, toward Rome
where all of you are waiting, I want to come back—
but it doesn’t last. I walk home through the colonnade,
listening to the temple priests and fortune tellers,
the eastern caravans selling cedar, pearls, and linen.
The innkeeper’s daughter greets me at the door,
the weak hand cupped to her breast. She has been
praying to a small bright god in the corner
of her room, for health and peace, as she has been taught.
I will go upstairs and place my arms around the loved,
and living body of one who owns no household gods,
who confesses no world but this. We will watch
the sky turn dark and wait for the fishermen to light
their lamps and disappear across the invisible sea.
I pray to the God I remember, whom I love and fail
to love, knowing words are all I have to bind
us to each other, knowing they are passing too.

Kristin Fogdall
first published in Poetry, vol. CLXXVI, no. 4, July 2000

Demas, in Love with This Present World

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