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Brenda Yates

The Etruscan Fire Poker

They left no literature to give account of themselves, no epics to explain beginnings,
no noisy voices of change. Fragments of a language that can be read
but not understood, survive on tablet and tomb: cartouche, inventory, inscription for   
a deceased about whom nothing is known.  Though often spoken of by
other names or lumped with Phoenicians, we have no record of their response.

Nothing either when Greeks said: …hedonistic…unmanly!… and took offence at
parties where, lolling on couches, respectable females, even wives, drank,
spoke and listened to music beside men.  Or when Romans disparaged their art: 
popular baubles …knick-knacks…but kept without comment
the funeral sacrifices, gladiatorial games, rigid hierarchy, and of course, the arches.

Rasenna, they called themselves, and probably the place they lived as well, but
origins are uncertain, no clearer than how or why they disappeared.
Artifacts show borrowed myths, renamed gods, added twists, spice, sex, depicting         
copulation, threesomes, Aphrodite naked, Apollo striding in strange
see-through gown. Demons were blue and beaked, distinctly their own—precisely

the color, it was said, of blue-black flies that feast on rotten meat.  Sphinxes and
supernatural beasts indicate belief in an after-life, but not what
they feared, nor why hut-urns that had for generations held the bones and ashes of
their dead, became elaborate miniature houses in street after
street of a necropolis on the out-skirts of town.  But compelled as we are to make

stories, objects are never lifeless for long.  Among the jumbled remnants of the dead,
there are carvings and bronzes:  statesmen, gods, warriors,
women with delicate necks, next to fibula, elegant helmet, earring, wine cup, hairpin,
sarcophagus with smiling, reclining couple.
And there are desires, rendered in crude clay:  fat, sexual fetishes, wishful phalluses

and bellies swollen with dreamed-of babies. And the mundane: braziers, bowls,
mirrors, platters, jars, beside the not-so-ordinary, like a
wrought-iron fire poker ending in the shape of a narrow, delicate hand. Elongated
fingers curl beneath the resting thumb and the graceful
extended index (ready for prodding coals), whimsy that needs no language. 

My husband punctures the hush, laughing at a joke 3,000 years dead.       


Weeks later, we happen on a documentary about the deaf. A child is filmed as his
cochlear implant is activated. He sits in his mother’s lap, playing
with his hands.  Someone speaks to him. Apprehension passes over his face like a
bright cloud, and he turns, eyes lit—toward the sound—knowing
this something he’s never heard is a human voice, beckoning through the silence.    


Brenda Yates is from nowhere.  Having grown up on military bases here and abroad, she now lives and works in Los Angeles.  Her  poems have appeared in Eclipse, Pearl, 51%, Cider Press Review, Spillway, Blue Arc West and So Luminous The Wildflowers, An Anthology of California Poets.  She was the recipient of the 2005 Patricia Bibby Memorial Scholarship at Idyllwild Arts and is one of  five co-editors reading for an upcoming anthology entitled: Off Base: Poetry of the Military Brat Experience.

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