We have this fact from Galen:
All who moored at Alexandria were divested of their books, until these could be copied.
Thus, the encyclopedic Royal Library was built largely upon bibliopiracy.
Half a million of its works were acquired by this means,
reproduced in harborside quick-scribe shops and labeled "From the Ships"

From the Ships

For E.W.

Within a moment domed by gulls
masts sigh in salt furrows
- almost staunch again as trees.
Sullen captains squint seaward.
The spices are landed, dyes and brick
perfumes and timber
iron from the north and mystic amber.
Hulls by their hundreds are rebulked
with local cargo, foodstuffs, wine
and yet ropes whine while fair winds tease.

On deck or dock, nobody's drifting far.
Crews, messengers and urgent merchants pace
lockstepped with pilgrim sinners
and impatience rises with the saline glare
as the weight of resisted intention
heavier than air
grows heavier even than lead.
Not tied by tide, nor storm, nor dread of war
they're stopped - as if by pox - for hostage books:
fixed like the straining ships to copyists.

Within a moment domed by fading stars
- untold by wakeful traders scolding Waste!
on abaci - the very sails on spars seem scrolls
to nearby stevedores unloading onto papyri
seamiles of seaworn words.
Slaves sworn to crown and god
and second god, Sophia-Logos
scribes of the nightshift labor
while their fellows doze - hands cramped to quills;
eyes closed, yet still incised with alphabet.

Upon the silence of some-thousand oars
these scribblers sleep with labyrinth and leopard
frost, fanged reef, pagoda bells
and faces of the drowned
are safe. Though ships go down
we sail, our wings unleashed and legible
to harbor here
and tell our toll of tales
- bound on the shore-coast of yearning
before the City of Learning.

From "The Troy Papers"
For D.M.T.

The god-concocted perfect egg-child
I was betrayed by love before I was ever laid.
Taloned Aphrodite screamed me into being
and the Furies will, I daresay
someday shriek me out
- it would be just like them -
but men won't let a notion like me go
(except with them, of course, for show.)

When I turn phantom, they don't even notice.

You should know Menelaus didn't want me
- not Helen, flesh-present -
just the ultimate adornment on his arm
and he rather liked my poetry;
that fired his blood for a good slaughter
or plunder: further matters of pride.
It's been SSDD with Paris, first with Theseus and
- well, this isn't a catalog but for the record, Dad.

Call it love, not greed and I'm a fabulous pretext for anything.

You'd think by now the guys would get the joke.
You'd also think if Zeus' little doll charms armies
she can likewise disarm them.
Not on a bet
yet I'm getting the blame.
Sure, I've tried leaping from parapets

Guess who interferes? Pop's SO into control.

Oh goddamn, there must've been another sacrifice!
The blowhard Aeolus is puffing in more warships
- just what we need.
Such a waste, such a din, fighters at it again
and there's cheering on Olympus, I assure you.
Half-god, I'm on the wavelength of Immortal Laughter
- this over dying strangers
crying, "Helen!"

The soldiers long to see my face. I wouldn't dare.

The secret is, the fabled face is hardly there.
Each time I write I grow a little more transparent.
Invisibility was Mom's idea.
I fashioned ghosts for practice, left a trail of them behind
- shapes sublimely loosed of content, to contain mens' dreams.
I do it with mirrors. Reflections and reflections
- yeah, they're forms of self-protection
but on the quietest nights they whisper
when I listen to the sea.

How I do pity the one who wins me.

From the Ships won top honors in the 1999 Symposium competition at AncientSites,
then a major online community of about 150,000 members worldwide.

From "The Troy Papers" was the seed of what became my musical comedy, Helen! - now online.

These works are 1994, 1999, 2001, 2011 Katherine Anne Harris.
All Rights Reserved.