The Cortland Review

Eleanor Wilner
"Entering the Labyrinth," an essay on the persona poem.

Eleanor Wilner
Four persona poems: Minos, Ariadne, Daedalus, and The Minotaur.


This marks an author's first online publication Michelle Boisseau

This marks an author's first online publication Annie Boutelle
Christine Casson
This marks an author's first online publication Carolyn Creedon
Claudia Emerson
Daisy Fried
Diane Gilliam
Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Kathleen Jesme
Ilya Kaminsky
Marilyn Krysl
David Lee
Gary Copeland Lilley
Maurice Manning
Alicia Ostriker
Alicia Jo Rabins
Tim Seibles
This marks an author's first online publication Heidy Steidlmayer
Book Review
"Tourist in Hell" by Eleanor Wilner—Book Review, by David Rigsbee.

Eleanor Wilner

Eleanor Wilner is the author of seven books of poems: Tourist in Hell (U. of Chicago, fall, 2010), The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon, 2004), Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon 1998), Otherwise (U. of Chicago, 1993), Sarah's Choice (U. of Chicago, 1990), Shekhinah (U. of Chicago, 1985), maya (U. of Massachusetts, 1979), a translation of Euripides' Medea (U. of Pennsylvania, 1998) as well as a book on visionary imagination, Gathering the Winds (Johns Hopkins, 1975). She has taught at many colleges and universities, most recently at the University of Chicago, Smith College, and Northwestern University. She currently teaches in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
Eleanor Wilner – Four Poems



          lean close     I am only     the echo of a voice
     husk of power     king of cobwebs     cast off shell of the cicada
          the singing insect long since flown     memory     a spectral     thread
     broken     line     across the centuries     perforations
               a place to tear     open again the rift in time     string of tears

     the clew     that led from one room of the dream     to the next
          became     a flame     burning along a fuse     until
                    it lit the black night     of the Aegean
     gone     our port of pleasure     there     pause again at the word
                         the way wind lingers in bright air

     turns hot     Sirocco stirs the nerves again     blows the dry earth
Ariadne     in a dress of dust     grows indistinct
               ( no, stay a moment . . .     I want to know…)
     the dolphin leaps     only on the peeling blue     of the painted wall
a lizard brushes my foot     Theseus     only a name     for the passage     of power
from one place to another

          we were lovers of peace     of art     the winding measures of dance
                    of poems     yes     we were liars     always     new gods
          thirsty for blood     swallow the old     I am tired
               where are     the vineyards     the arbors
          they say     the way in     is the way out     we end
     at the place     of beginning     black sails     for the old kings
                    white     in the hold     for the next




They say I placed the clew in his hand     (even my father     shamed     came to believe it)
but it was their story     told long after
what happened     left us beggars in our once     rich     island
before the earth erupted     before the sea rose
we were a city without walls
our complications were within     artists     traders     worshippers of the changing moon
we were ourselves the labyrinth     and the clew
I was she who served the Lady     who wears the crescent     holds the twin serpents
who is the reel around which the thread is wound     now
even the olive trees     nothing but pillars of smoke     and I     standing among ruins
looked up into the eyes of Greece     fierce bearers of spears     gods of sun and thunder
carrying shields on which we were history
merely     an old dream of peace     the white bull grazing in the wild grass
the cows deep in perpetual summer
the ibex abroad in the mountain     poppies aflame like red silks in the field
gone     in the fiery night
the past     only a painting crumbling from the walls
and     I     a figment now     a shade who flits
along the labyrinth     of time     history twisted like a skein of yarn
back on the spindle     back to the spinner's     hand
I run my hand along     but where is the wall
where is the world
(what have they done to my brother)
of course we went mad     when they came
there was so much death     they seemed
almost its master
Daedalus serves a new god
and I     a foreign figure in a Greek story
the Greek key is a maze
it is their design
fit for the walls of their temples of stone
finding us weak
they took what they say we gave
I shall free myself
from that fiction as soon as I find
the right turn
a way out
of these




always there are questions     always     answers disagree
     like quarrelsome     neighbors     who argue about everything
          where the fence goes     who owns the fig tree     whose god made
the world green     whose dog tore the garden up     whose story
     is true     whose story is this we are in     I should know
          I am Daedalus     artificer     artist     teller of tales     trapped
in the maze      of my own invention     Dante whirling
          in the circles of an exile's hell     vile dreams of monsters
     the torture of my enemies     incendiary     I am every exile
in my mind ascending     living under     one emperor after another
     I am the ringmaster     the man on the merry-go-round horse
          I am the architect     who comes home to a ruined house
Marcel     who ends one thousand pages     with a man beginning to write
     Finnegan's scribe     with the bad eyes     the many tongues
          the wake     into which we sail     to begin again
born tired the poet     whose way forward     is the way
     back     I     Daedalus     was hired     to map the underground     its twisted ways
keep it     secret     put the lid on     a painted ceiling of stars
still     air extends itself     sun dazzles the sea
     a scatter of floating feathers     marks     the limits of art
Knossos     drowns in sand again     gnosis     down the bloody drain     of history
          and I     only a man in search of an exit     hired     to construct it



The Minotaur    

Do not mistake me     I am not what you think
what you think is polluted     by what you were told
if man is the measure     then     man is the monster
See     I have taken the long gold clew     in my mouth
I am reeling it in     reeling it in
a man is attached
Theseus     an obsolete hero     sent long ago     this time
I have pulled the knife     from the heart     of the plot
even as I pull the line     that     he holds in his hand
and thinks it his own     see     I am drawing him
closer and closer     I can smell his fear now
the line he believed would lead him out     is
pulling him     inexorably in     I never
let go     I was born under the sign of
Taurus     we hold on     whatever
we've got stays caught
I am hauling and
face to face
you are looking into my eyes
I into yours
now you see who we are
tangled in the spiraling threads that curl
round and round
the central axis of the double helix
along the nucleotides of creation     where the past
is always with us     and always open
to change     I have met you here     because it is time
there is so much past     it is late     just time enough
for an exit



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