The Daughter of Antiochus

by Adam Elgar
The Writer's Block
Second Place, June 2007
Judged by Bryan Appleyard

I am no viper, yet I feed
on mother’s flesh that did me breed. (Pericles, Prince of Tyre I i 65-6)

No point dividing day
from night since both
are empty. I decline
on sofas and chaises–
longues, hollow with age
and boredom like a skin
shedding its snake.

These days I’m harmless, and my memory
crusts over like my sight. But he’s still sharp,
his nose too long, his accent crude, his stink
of the sea. The only one I really wanted.
He saw me as I was, as Daddy made me,
as Daddy had been making me for years.

I heard someone name ‘Tyre’ the other day.
There were drums and fanfares, so I wondered,
was it him? Had he escaped my father’s rage
and come in his nineties to visit me and gloat
with some ex-beauty tottering on his arm?
I must have wished it. A relief from other thoughts.

Even to the most, let’s say, adoring fathers
daughters lose their glow, and since I had a sister
Daddy farmed me out once she had reached
the age he liked. Some ‘farm’ — this dusty nowhere,
a decrepit king who couldn’t till my bed.
Which satisfied Daddy. What was my fertility to him?

The story goes that I was burned up too
when fire bombed from the sky to punish him.
The woman sitting by his side, like him
reduced to charcoal, was my sister. Daddy
taught me flesh is foul. Correction. Showed.
Correction. All the space there might have been

in me for love, hunger, or
tenderness was filled with him.
Poisons are subtle here,
blades fine, plagues frequent.
I forget which nephew’s
nephew grabbed the throne
last time the music stopped.

This is a dramatic monologue, a difficult form that requires restraint - otherwise the tone of voice and the character collapses. Here the tone of well preserved and we get a real sense of the woman's bitterness and disappointment. There are several wonderful effects - 'like a skin/shedding its snake' and I lie the 'ex-beauty tottering on his arm'. --Bryan Appleyard