Poetry: David Hadbawnik’s Aeneid (with illustrations by Carrie Kaser)


from the Aeneid, Book III

1. fuge litus avarum

gave fate to the wind
at first summer when father
ordered            wild prophecies of
            uninhabited lands—
                        left Troy smoking in ruins
behind us, god-scattered
onto the waves, all of us
            refugees covered in tears
lugging family and household gods


a place Thracians plow
            once ruled by Lycurgus—
ancient ally and with gods
            friendly to Troy
(at least while it stood)

Landing I wasted no time
raising walls though the omens
were black and named it


after myself. Quick to sacrifice
to mother Venus and mighty Jove
I slaughtered a bull on the shore
as luck would have it a mound
            nearby with a high
Cornell’s bush and bristling myrtle
thick with sharp shoots


oozed as I grabbed some branches
            to cover the altars
            and mirabile dictu
it all went south
                        an awful sign
            the thing screamed
as I tore it            BLOOD
            spilled black from soil
and spread gore on
            the earth—a shudder
ran through me again
            I peeled back the bark
of another tree trying to see
            what’s what                        BLOOD
spurts out and my mind
grasps for country nymphs and
            Mars (father to these fields) to propitiate
that they might make these fates
            green again
but after I wrestle the third bush
            and come up covered in blood
(should I tell you the next part?)
a groan comes up from deep
            in the root-wound
and a voice reaches me:


why must you tear at me?
I’m someone you know, a poor
bastard not worth dirtying
those pious hands over.
            That’s right—
I’m Trojan.                                    RUN
                        from me,                        RUN
            from this greedy shore.
They got me here, planting spears
in my side that now flower
            from me, Polydorus.”

I stood frozen in shock.

Everything seized up in my mind
            and words caught in my throat—

This guy, Polydorus, had secretly
held gold from unlucky Priam—
who’d lost faith in Trojan arms
over the course of the long seige—
in trust with the Thracian king.
            When the city finally fell
that king cut us loose, seeking
            Agamemnon and
selling Troy out completely.
He killed Polydorus and pocketed
            all the gold.

Terror slowly eased
            out of my bones.
I consulted my father.
He and everyone agreed—
we’d leave this unlucky land,
            after giving Polydorus
            a proper funeral.


2. Mutandae sedes.

                        soft southerly winds

            Doric seas

                                    Apollo’s island





                        interprets again—

                                    we set out

for Crete, ancient birthplace

            hundred cities amidst waves

breeze blows astern

                        to push us


Arriving I build walls
call it Troy, encouraging happy folk
to cherish new home and citadel
            raised to protect them.

Ships drawn to shore
            youths rejoice in

I make laws and assign lands

from some dark corner of heaven
touches crops and tree limbs
withered and pitiable,
            a deadly season

people drop dead in the streets
others too tired to drag their bodies away
blasts fields with barrenness

grass goes dry and harvest
            never comes—

Father says backtrack to Delos
to ask Apollo’s oracle
what we should do

what aid for our labors,
            what course take?

at night
            household gods sacred to Troy
appear to me in my sleep
            glowing in bright light
poured in through the open windows
                        by full moon

easing my cares with these words:

“Don’t bother going to Delos
            Apollo told us
his prophecy and sent us to you
we’ve come this far and we’ll sing
to the stars your descendants
            Do not
                        desert your labors
            through long exile
                        to found a great city—
                        you must leave Crete.

It’s not these shores Apollo offered you.

There’s a place the Greeks call ‘Hesperia’
an ancient land, tough in arms
            rich in soil
the inhabitants now call it
after one of their chiefs.

This is the place for you.

From here came Dardanus
            and father Iasius
who gave birth to our race

Get up and go and make sure
            to tell your
                        old man—

seek again the Italian lands
            Jupiter’s cut you off
            from Cretan fields.”


                        frozen to spine

I awake

                        make offering

wild words

                        father remembers:

Cassandra          made mention of

            Italy      but

            who’d believe her?


            let us yield

                        to this new prophecy

            everyone cheering            we

                        set keel to breakers

                                    once more


Translating the Aeneid began as homework, and like most good things, became an obsession and a bit of a poetic white whale. These days it’s both a ritual and a source of enjoyment, though it continues to make me think about issues of politics, empire, and the nature of poetry (and narrative) itself. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in the film version Charlton Heston would’ve made a great Aeneas and Janet Leigh a wonderful Dido, with Marlene Dietrich as Venus and Orson Welles doing voiceover and cameos as Virgil, a la Touch of Evil.

dhcatDavid Hadbawnik is a poet living in Buffalo, NY. Part one of his translation of the Aeneid was published in 2013 (Little Red Leaves); part two is forthcoming in 2014. In 2012, he edited Thomas Meyer’s Beowulf (Punctum Books), and in 2011 he edited (with Sean Reynolds) selections from Jack Spicer’s Beowulf for CUNY’s Lost and Found Document Series. Other publications include Field Work (BlazeVOX, 2011), Translations From Creeley (Sardines, 2008), Ovid in Exile (Interbirth, 2007), and SF Spleen (Skanky Possum, 2006). He is the editor and publisher of Habenicht Press and the journal kadar koli, and a co-editor of eth press.

Carrie-Kaser-picCarrie Kaser is an artist, printmaker, and educator in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a Tamarind-trained lithographer and has studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, University of New Mexico, and University at Buffalo, where she completed an MFA in Visual Studies. Her work explores the construction of narrative and the interpretation of symbols through memory and past experience. Her prints and drawings have been featured in exhibitions nationally.