Sappho: A Voice

Katherine Gaffney


Your biography is legend like your death
     down the face
of white cliffs into the Ionian sea. You called hurricanes 
with a whisper and in that whisper felt erotic. Call out 
to Achilles as a high, blushing apple. Did you tear
 your garments in grief? Those white robes clean as the cliffs 
you stood upon as you redefined
     the poet, alone
and feeling, raw as the salt that spat back through to which the winds 
you murmured. Before you leapt you must have licked your lips 
to taste that delicious ocean once more before dying your clean
     death, metered as the crash
of the tides, and before your fall you were closer to the gods, 
closer for Aphrodite to hear you cursing her for the bittersweet 
all through your descent. You sent your body as a love letter to him. 


Lyric over the click of fish spines drawn back through teeth,
beside the lyre plucked like those fragile piscine bones. Each foot
the pluckers forgot not, for with their music verse was bread dipped 
in honey and in which listening girls became 
     bright shaking leaves who surpassed in beauty 
all mortality. Choral, coral. From the sea you rose, rosy-armed, 
were named the tenth muse. Aphrodisiacal, nectar in the cup, 
sliding down the throat, raised in you a song of Pleaides. The moon 
is round as the coins you adorn, as sweet faces, as young breasts 
     on you and your chorus of girls. How syllabic
 they stand on what the dawn light scatters, unwary of golden death
and its soft stress.
—italicized lines in this poem stem from Sappho’s poems

Otherwise Engaged

Katherine Gaffney

I’ve planned a wedding with half 
a guest list, but all the booze &
salmon filets to feed both halves, 
invited and yet to be. The invitation 
reads: We, Katherine and yet to be 
found invite you to join us in celebrating
our love and union on Saturday, the 18th 
of April, 2020. The date sounded futuristic 
enough to give me time to find someone 
to fill in the “yet to be found” position. No Save 
the Dates were sent for it felt like tempting 
fate. Many calls rang in as these hand-
calligraphed, hand-delivered envelopes
were uncovered in mailboxes. Who is yet 
to be found? Will you take his name? Found?
To be found? Sounds exotic. When do we get
to meet him? As soon as I’ve found him 
or her; I’ve yet to decide. 

Some white lies were crafted for cake
tasters; about my fiancé(e) being out
of the country or having a severe gluten 
intolerance to where (s)he can eat it, but
can’t be around the raw, uncooked flour.

The florist understood well enough my
spouse-to-be’s rare allergy to cut stems,
satisfied by being strong enough to work 
in such a hazardous environment. Peonies, 
peach and mahogany. Peach for my cheeks, 
mahogany for my spouse-to-be’s eyes; 
it seemed statistically plausible.

I found an observatory with light 
coming from all sides for the ceremony, 
to light the tear I know will fall 
as our hands join, found the angle I’d face 
so friends and family will see it 
like a little jewel glued to my cheek. 

I divulge to my pet rabbit, who of course will be
Instagrammably incorporated as the ring bearer
and flower girl in one, my preemptive planning, 
her gnashing expresses worry, as I’ve learned 
to decode from years of cohabitation. I explain 
that weddings are always spectacle, always planned 
by the bride, masked as ceremony and celebration 
representative of the relationship up until that point, 
turn, step, but it’s all a spell we tell ourselves 
about the occasion. Really I’m saving him 
or her time, pain, time. In the end, (s)he’ll be grateful 
that all (s)he has to do is find a tux or dress, slip 
on or lace up and walk down the aisle. 

About the Author

Katherine Gaffney completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is currently working on her PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has previously appeared in jubilat, Harpur Palate, Mississippi Review, Meridian, and elsewhere. She has attended the Tin House’s Summer Writing Workshop, the SAFTA Residency, and the Sewanee Writer’s Conference as a scholar. Her first chapbook, Once Read as Ruin, was published at Finishing Line Press.