Moniza Alvi

 

Europa and the Bull

 

 

I

 

The herd was slipping down the green glass hill.

Twenty heifers and a bull.

 

A force in the sky

switched the lights off and on

to the accompaniment of a new

kind of weather, not snow, not sleet,

but the cold slanted down.

                                              Although

it was Spring it was treacherous

for the heifers and the bull – they were glad

when the sky was swept clear.

 

 

II

 

Someone or something was driving

them down to the shore.

                                          The sand

stretched out like the floor

of the world – and the sea

rushed up to it, telling

a bit of its story

                           and snatching it back.

 

The cows kept on paddling.

The sun was faint and then strong.

 

 

III

 

Europa was very much the King’s daughter –

        his eyes, his nose,

and sometimes she felt she wore

his heavy gold crown, that his

kingdom  trailed behind her like a dress.

 

She was glad to be outdoors, running

with friends along the open shore,

throwing the ball of conversation

high into the air – it spun

                        backwards and forwards –

the girls swapped all the wisdom

they had gained so far.

 


IV

 

Her friends were there –

                                               Then they’d gone,

 

spirited away like a childhood.

She wrapped their voices

around her, tucked them under her arm.

Aloneness – like a thistle on her tongue.

 

 

V

 

She was softening, melting,

collapsing onto the sand.

And a beast was stepping towards her

dragging the sea behind him –

light in step as a dancer,

 

white as a boulder,

a snowy mountain,

a ship’s sail,

a lie.

Orchid-white,

violet-white,

rose-white,

not white at all.

 

A bull blessed with the costliest

golden horns, each gleaming

to outshine the other.

 

 

VI

 

His tender glance

settled on her,

flitted on and off

like a cabbage-white.

 

Europa stretched out her hand

and touched him

                            and the being

who hid like a stowaway

inside him.

 

 

VII

 

He cavorted on the shore

for her pleasure and his own.

The two joys wound together.

He rocked on his back on the sand

open to her gaze, and to the sky.

 

She picked

 

  sea-blite

  sea-purslane

  glasswort

  saltwort

 

wove him a stiff bluish garland,

threaded it around his horns,

fed him a sea-crocus.

 

 

VIII

 

Fired by her boldness, he

offered her the great white cliff

of his breast to stroke.

 

Dear bull. Her human words

encircled him like freed birds,

alighted on his head,

 

fluttered into his watchfulness,

his wordless sympathy.

 

His huge absent bellow.

 

 

IX

 

And she kissed the expanse of forehead,

 

a kiss she feared

would make no impact,

like a tiny coin

dropped on a vast plain.

 

She kissed the silver line of his silence.

 


X

 

Climb onto his back,

the air seemed to say.

Cling to his broad white neck.

 

He bowed low, beckoning her

with half-knowing looks,

and she clambered up the milky hill of him

until they were one –

 

Europa and the bull, motionless

for an instant, answerable

to the sea and sky.

 

 

XI

 

She held on to him as she had often

held on to a stone,

or a leaf torn from a hedge,

 

fastened herself to his neck –

her floating branch,

or life itself,

                      there to be grasped.

 

 

XII

 

He carried her along at the sea’s edge,

carefully, at first,

                        tried to lick her arms,

her face.

 

Splashed her –

 

teasingly

                 stepping into the waves

 

 

XIII

 

and back again.

 

                          Then forward

 

plunging in

 

                       and plung-

 

ing in

 

                 repeatedly

 

this was no game

 

deeper

 

                  deeper

 

harder

 

               without pause

 

harderharder

 

until there was no return.

 

 

XIV

 

But still

               she pressed her legs

against the swimming bull,

clutched him, slid against

his heaving paleness.

 

Where was she,

Agenor’s daughter?

Wrenched from herself,

flung across worlds.

 

 

XV

 

For miles

                     she slithered,

torn and bleeding

on her shifting white rock.

 

The bold waves drowned

Her cries, forced her under.

 

*

 

Then even they lay low.

The exhausted winds died down.

 

 

XVI

 

Beyond all hope –

                            a shoreline,

 

calm waves, weak sun.

 

*

 

The bull knelt,

lowered his prize down

 

on the untrodden sand

at the blurred brink of the Earth.                 

 

 

XVII

 

Europa tumbled from his back,

her life reduced

                          to a terrible soreness.

 

Her body, that precious thing

she’d tried to look after –

 

as if it were a kitten

that had grown up with her.

 

Her bones cried out.

Her muscles wept.

 

 

XVIII

 

Struggling up, she saw

a bull’s shape

near to her, then further off.

 

She called to her friends.

                                         Her father.

No answer –

 

 

XIX

 

but a slight breeze,

danced on the waves – then faster,

whipping round the distant bull

 

the hilly outline shook

and gleamed

                      dazzled

and shook

                  and a man stepped through

 

an empty shining frame,

                                     tall and bronzed

as if the beach, or the sun had given birth.

 

And where was the bull?

The golden horns flashed for a moment

above the human curls.

 

 

XX

 

I am Jupiter, lord of all bulls

King of the gods,

 

and you, Europa, a continent

full of undiscovered countries.

 

His eyes roved,

wandered her borderless fields,

her towns, her woods.

 

His face softened,

and even as she trembled

he drew her in.

 

She was already his queen.

 

 

XXI

 

A palace up a thousand steps, roofed

in mist – the birds flocked in.

 

Halls, courtyards teemed

with half-people, half-animals, beings in flux.

Words broadened into barks and bleats.

 

Visitors were clouds massing

damply at the doors.

 

 

XXII

 

Coming to, awake beside her gentle king

she felt his skin

                              odd to touch

like soft white suede

and saw instead of Jupiter, a bull.

And she turned and scrambled

from a bed

                   churning, wide as the sea.

 

Europa, forgive me.

Her immortal lover bowed his head,

 

and cried.

 

 

XXIII

 

Darkness fought off the daylight

and Europa fought off the dark.

 

Rooms drawn in charcoal.

 

She hadn’t known there were

so many

               shades of black.

 

In every corridor

visitations – of herself

                                      sliding

from a wet bull,

smashed under,

                          drowning,

 

clambering up

and drowning.

 

Thoughts hammering,

intruding upon her

                                like strangers

 

breaking into her bedroom.

 

The sleep-grabber

at work all night,

                           pulling her

with a rough hand

from a sleep

shallow as a puddle.

 

Europa haunted by Europa.

Her ravaged twin,

scratched as a pane of glass.

 

 

XXIV

 

Through screens, through limpid water,

she’d watch him

changing for the hell of it.

 

He’d sprawl, a leopard on a branch,

languid, ominous.

 

*

A mile long snake, he’d spiral up a tree.

 

*

Sometimes her hair

                               flew

across her face

with nothing to blow it.

 

*

Or a finger

                    rippled outwards

like a stream.

 

*

Or her whole body

strained and cracked, and spread.

 

 

XXV

 

Until – stopping at a gilded mirror

                                                 she gazed

                     

at a continent, a home to countries,

 

ripening fields, orchards, valleys,

placid lakes, mountains, plains and seas,

saw a girl and a friendly bull

                                                 playing on a shore,

 

the ocean tumult, the wilderness,

                                                      a father

tearful in his palace.

 

Her lands stirred, her rivers ran on.

Can we forgive him?

Their song.