"A Flower Stall," John William Waterhouse, 1880, Wikiart photo. For this poem, Anya is seated.
“A Flower Stall,” John William Waterhouse, 1880, Wikiart photo. For this poem, Anya is seated; Ontonia in red.

Who or what is family, especially during war?
Her father battle-killed, mother feared dead,
I found flower girl, Anya, sleeping nights at
Her tent, honey cakes and water, crouched
Under archways during storms, desperate,
She took my hand, mother’s duty, Anya
Protected in my house, bathed and robed.

One-hundred gold coins I, Ontonia, offered
For fate of Anya’s parents, soldiers, armed
With sword and shield, combed Attic battle-
Fields and farmland laid barren to war and
Fire, their house deserted, no place or circum-
Stances for an adolescent girl, temptation of
Young flesh, her modesty and honour taken.

Child of simple, caring country folk, Anya,
Could not read nor write, could barely count,
And knew not finer things, her life limited to
Niceties exchanged, extra coins tossed in her
Bowl, otherwise she was ignored by passing
Artisans and aristocrats alike. O! Sleepless
Nights when Anya failed to find my open door.

Amongst my elitist children, Anya felt estranged,
Chin-elevated in ire when servants ushered her
To my room, bed of linens made, pool for her
Baths, candles flickering in her sleep. With her
Agreement, I approached the assembly to adopt
Anya as my own with promise of education,
Permanent place in my patrician household,
We anxiously awaited their favourable decision.

Facing assembly of older men, some of whom
Were battle-scarred, semicircle of Athenian
Democracy, Anya and I stood hand-in-hand
Undaunted by their position. “Ontonia, this
Adoption we cannot permit,” their spokesman
Said, “Anya is not of noble blood, illiterate child
Of peasants, beneath dignity of your house.”

“My lords, I gave promise to educate Anya, to
Find suitable employ,” I replied. Still they re-
Buffed my pleas, my ire inflamed when they
Said aloud, “This child must be sent away.”
I pulled my dagger from my sash, bronze-gold
And razor sharp and drew its gleaming blade
Across my open palm.

Likewise, I did the same to Anya, who flinched
As my knife claved her flesh, our hands now
Freely bleeding. With my royal sash, I bound
Them palm-to-palm, and held them high for
Ruling men to see, blood streaming from our
Elbows, spilling to sandaled feet. “Anya’s blood
Is my blood; my blood is Anya’s,” my strident
Voice echoed through stately columned halls.

As promised, I adopted, educated Anya, secret
Ploys my mother taught to me. She was not virgin
When she wed my father. Using a small blood-
Filled bladder that burst whilst lovemaking, red
Stains bespoke her virtue. Such was our scheme,
Two bladders of swine blood outsmarted an
Assembly of Athens’ learnéd men.

This poem is a companion piece to “Anya: Love and Tragedy.”

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