Do you love and revere a powerful woman? The odds are good, and terrible, that she’s been chased.
Roberto Rodriguez-Estrada’s “Daphne” leapt at me while I read the poetry offerings in Fairy Tale Review. You may know the tale of Daphne the naiad, pursued with aggressive lust by Apollo — which is a classicist’s way, perhaps, of saying he was chasing her to rape her. She pleads for mercy, and is transformed into a laurel tree by either a rivergod who is her father, or Gaia, depending on source. Much in the manner of men who venerate that which they cannot conquest, Apollo comes to cherish laurels, which then crowned victors at the Pythian Games. We continue to associate laurels with plaudits in popular culture, from the Olympics to film festivals, heraldry to university graduates.
What of Daphne? isn’t the only question this poem asks. Rodriguez-Estrada gives us a grafting: a splinting of the Daphne myth with the tale of another, immediate speaker, one who can measure their coming-of-age through violence: “I will think of all / my greatest hits / my father’s belt against my ass / la fajiada que te voy a dar / the leather-lash and cattails / the eight-fisted whip / the blistering tumescence / of the warped tree I did / become”. The poem is a discomfiting, tautly lyric reminder that we are a world full of Daphnes, still: folk who flee, flinch and transmogrify ourselves in order to evade trauma, the tyranny of the lash, and more violations than can ever be put into poems.
I love this poem for all the reasons that a poem can keep me up at night and crowd my complacency into a corner (then defenestrate it) by day. Rodriguez-Estrada has reined in their use of the line so sharply: this poem flows, yes, but it also bridles.
Read “Daphne” here.
Roberto Rodriguez-Estrada is currently working on a collection of stories that riff on myths and fairy tales, taking place between Nicaragua and California in the wake of war and natural disasters.
This is the ninth installment of Other Kinds of Men, a speculative poetry reader in honour of Ursula K. Le Guin. Speculative writing, which encompasses the major genres of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, has often given voice to the most relentless and ungovernable urgencies of this age, and any other. Le Guin understood this: that to write about dragons, ice worlds and other seeming oddities was, in fact, to write into the messy, riotous complexity of ourselves. Here’s to dragons, and here’s to Ursula.