A Sestina for Lachrymatories

by Mary K O’Melveny

……….*A lachrymatory is a vessel of clay or glass often found in Greek and
……….Roman tombs. It is believed to have been designed to capture the
……….tears of mourners.

How many tears has all of humanity cried?
Surely a volume greater than our world can hold.
All our bleeding hearts have run like rivers
raging through earth, filling up endless vessels.
They flood doorways, spill down mountains.
Schools of fish pass through, swimming toward stars.

The most optimistic of us prayed to the stars
in hopes that someone would hear us as we cried.
As our anguish rises higher than mountains,
we wrap our pleas in silken threads, hold
them with care like new babes in fragile vessels,
launch them with grace at the mouths of rivers.

Others leap into maelstroms, seek confluence of rivers
as if turbulence might reorient some stars
in the direction of healing. Although their vessels
might flounder in undertows, those who cried
and those who fought sorrow all tried to hold
onto hope as if it were a parapet carved into mountains.

Poseidon launched hurricanes from mountains,
tamed oceans as if they were simple rivers.
In his glory he was rumored to hold
wild horses before they raced toward stars,
wings billowing like clouds. When he cried
over Cyclops, raw revenge became his vessel.

Odysseus spent ten years on wooden vessels
ravaged by storms, beset by battles. His mountains
of armies rose and fell. No one cried
louder than vanquished souls as the River
Styx carried away their dead. When the stars
lit up the skies, grief was all that remained to hold.

What is the greatest anguish anyone can hold?
Slavers’ ships became the gruesome vessels
of lost souls. For years after, they cast stains on our stars.
Promises that were sung from tops of mountains
still founder in heartbreak. From the Rivers
James to Mobile, residual tears continue to be cried.

I wish comfort could shapeshift to stars to hold our centers.
Still, when we cried, we would need clay vessels by our doorways.
Like a mountain’s glacial lake, rivers of tears would fill them.

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