To Live Forever in a Dream
The excavations ultimately revealed a late-Roman cemetery
. . . centered around the burial chapel of what appears to be
a very important woman . . . . The most stunning artifact
. . . was a transparent blue glass bowl found next to the
woman’s body. The 1,700-year old vessel is decorated on the
outside with grapes, and vine leafs and tendrils. A Greek
inscription on the inside of the bowl instructs the owner to
‘Drink to live forever, for many years!’
–Marjan Žiberna, National Geographic, January 28, 2019
Drink to live forever, for many years—
words etched in cobalt glass, a funeral
offering, left by mourners in her grave.
The words echo between our centuries,
but in this charnel pit, there is no life.
Did she drink from it, or did she deny?
Was this some Dionysian Grail? Deny
Bacchus, and in a rage, he’ll drain your years,
send Maenads to reave your head, end your life—
No, no cultist would leave this funeral
gift, not with an orgy scheduled, centuries
past—just after her wake, left of her grave.
The bowl’s a secret taken to the grave,
though her people, like all humans, denied
our mortal destiny. While centuries
separate us, we cling to our scant years
with feeble hands, denying funerals
to come, holding fast to this moment, life.
Generativity, the core of life,
creating that which is new in the grave’s
shadow—it won’t avoid your funeral,
but you’ll leave a mark that time can’t deny:
a child, a city, a poem. Long years
to raise up what might endure centuries.
Did they seek to forestall the centuries?
Did they drink blood in search of endless life,
weary of the promises of past years,
sacramental wine and rising from graves
in some distant rapture? Did she deny
them, refuse to drink ere her funeral?
People like to say, It’s your funeral,
expecting no good outcome. Centuries
grant us the only perspective that life
gives; distance to see patterns we deny;
if a decision was good, or a grave
mistake. The pity is, we lack those years.
We cannot deny our own funerals;
as years pass into centuries,
life always leaves a grave.
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Nevada, but currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and son. Her poetry has received Rhysling, Dwarf Star, and Pushcart nominations and has appeared in over fifty journals, including F&SF and Asimov’s. Her short fiction has appeared in Analog and Galaxy’s Edge. For more about her work, including her Elgin-nominated poetry collection, The Gates of Never, please see www.edda-earth.com.
Image Credit: From a National Geographic article, the excavated bowl accompanies this sestina