His head [the women] threw into the river,
but it floated, still singing, down to the sea,
and was carried to the island of Lesbos.
-Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 28.d
Before my lips kissed the gravel
of river-bottom, I looked back
and saw the lost body,
and the fingers of my severed hand
twitching for my lyre.
Even then, I bobbed up, singing.
They threw the lyre beside me
and the lyre began to play.
I could hardly hear the strings
for the noise of rushing water.
When the river slowed through the tidal flats,
I came to love the taste of salt.
For months I have drifted
among the bluefish and the tunas.
Leached of all blood and beset by sea lice,
one eye pecked by a passing gull––
I still sing. The lyre, drifting with me, plucks on.
I hear the sounds of wave-on-beach
and sense the schooly candlefish,
frenzied in the surf.
Whatever land I drift toward,
I sing for what lives there.
My hair braids through the nut-brown kelp
that tangles along the shore.
NOTE: The painting is Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus by J.W. Waterhouse (1900).
This poem originally appeared in Volume XXXII, No. 1 (2008) of The Legal Studies Forum (West Virginia University College of Law)