Family Histories

by Josephine Balmer

330px-Gela_Painter_-_Black-Figure__Pinax__(Plaque)_-_Walters_48225As I explored previously in my 2004 collection, Chasing Catullus (and my subsequent study Piecing Together the Fragments), ancient, classical texts have long provided us with a means to articulate present grief. Five years ago this month, in November 2010, my mother died very suddenly of a heart attack. It took a long time to be able to write about this and even then, as with Chasing Catullus, I found I could do so only through the resonant echo of classical voices.

AgendaFamilyHistoriesfrontcoverJust published in the latest edition of Agenda, Family Histories, the following sonnet is based around lines from Aeneid 2 (735-55), in which Aeneas, escaping from a burning Troy with his family, realises to his horror that his wife Creusa is no longer with them.

(The full sequence, Letting Go, is published by Agenda Editions in July 2017)

(after Aeneid 2.735-55)

Up to that point, I was still in the dark.
I was retracing steps, staring down paths
I saw as ours, not knowing she had been
ripped from us already, had slipped unseen
as she sat down to rest. We’d just spoken –
I heard her laughing, hanging up the phone –
but when next we gathered, friends, family,
one of us would be missing, tricked away.
I bargained with gods I did not worship;
I blamed, I begged ambulance men, medics.
Reaching home, I tried to put on armour,
convincing myself that they had saved her,
that they had been in time, they had, they had…
In response there was only silence, dread.

Josephine Balmer