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SEMELE
by Ruth Foley

I swallowed my own heart for you;
there was no trickery, no pregnant
pauses while I drank. I’d say I knew
what I was getting into, but I can’t—
though if I repeat it, perhaps I’ll make
it true. Call it a choice, as much as
anyone can choose, or name it fate,
a lie, a decision cut in half.

I drank. My blood pooled gleaming in
the cup. I grew anemic, lost the will
to pulse or beat. I want to singe and cure
this current in my fingers. Lightning
won’t release desire, so spark until
I catch. When I look at you, I burn.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Semele wants to look on Zeus—of course there’s trickery involved, with jealous wives and such—but even in his most minimal form, he is too much for human eyes to bear. Some versions of the myth say that Zeus cut up the heart of Dionysus and fed it to Semele in a drink, after which Zeus gave birth to Dionysus (that’s right—he was born twice) through a hole in his thigh. Another version has Zeus swallowing the heart. I certainly know the feeling of swallowing my heart for a man, and the belief that I am up to whatever challenge he may offer. Zeus gave in to Semele’s wish, but upon looking at him she burst into flame and died. I’m pretty sure I know that feeling, too.

IMAGE: “Jupiter and Semele” (detail) by Gustave Moreau (1895).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her work appears in numerous web an print journals, including Antiphon, The Bellingham Review, The Louisville Review, and Nonbinary Review. Her chapbook Dear Turquoise is available from Dancing Girl Press. She serves as Managing Editor for Cider Press Review.