Epic Simile

By A. E. Stallings b. 1968

For Rachel

Right shoulder aching with day-long butchery,
Left shoulder numb with dints clanged on the shield,
The hero is fouled with blood, his own and others’,
First slick, then sticky, then caked, starting to mat
His beard—the armor deadweight all around him;
His teeth grit and rattle with every jolt
Of bronze-rimmed wheels behind the shit-flecked horses.
But when he glimpses the mountains, the distant snow,
A blankness swoons upon him, and he hears
Nothing but the white vowels of the wind
Brushing through stands of spears like conifers
While a banner slips its staff and hangs in the blue
Like a kestrel or a contrail. The hero’s death,
The prize, elusive quarry of his life,
Stands stock-still in her cloven tracks in snow
And turns, one ear tuned to the creek’s far bank,
One dished towards him. Her unstartled gaze
Beads on him like a sniper’s sights, until
At the clean report of a cracking poplar branch,
She leaps away like luck, over rapid water,
And snowfall scrims the scene like a mist of tears,
Like a migraine, like sweat or blood streaming into your eyes.

Source: Poetry (January 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

January 2012
 A. E. Stallings


A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things, is published by Penguin Classics. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Mythology & Folklore, Heroes & Patriotism

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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