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Attack Underground

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Themiscyra, 72 BC

While Lucullus raided cherry orchards,
he left us to besiege,
grudgingly, this outlander fortress,
named for an Amazon queen,
while thinking of food and home.
Not one of us has seen
a single horse-borne warrior woman.
Meanwhile, we dug a tomb.

We intended it as the tunnel
through which we’d claim the fort.
We shored up the sifting roof
and dug by lamps
that shed more shadows than light.
At last we formed up underground
to attack with sword and fire,
but the enemy tossed in hives,

and in a cloud of stinging bees
our torches jerked and swung or fell
so we could hardly tell
where to strike, or what, for next
our enemy sent weasels in, and foxes,
which seemed to be done in jest
until we felt their teeth
and heard, more than saw, the larger beasts.

A wolf  began my death.
I lay in men’s and weasels’ blood
and heard the body
that dropped at my side
ask, What barbarian thought to make
of thoughtless creatures weapons of war?
But a flung torch showed me the face
of a bear that said nothing, and died.
Then came the boar.

Source: Poetry (April 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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Attack Underground

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