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"Actaeon" by John Pass (First Prize Poem)

A man who surprises the goddess bathing, naked
in full blush, head and shoulders haughty above
her scurrying handmaidens, who stumbles

upon her by accident, in an idle moment
as you or I upon the full, clear moon
over the mountain's white shoulder
driving, some January afternoon
the mundane highway. Such a man

in shift
from man of action to man the actor
in her drama, in transition, on the cusp
unaccountable, inarticulate, awkward
within strident grace

dies at the hands of his companions

dies in the teeth of his training, his prized hounds, dies her death as image of his desire-wild, elusive
specimen, silhouette
on a high ridge, leapt
out of range, out of bounds
except to accident, the tricks
of idleness, subtle art
of intention at rest, of the huntress. He dies
in the noise of his name, his friends shouting
"Actaeon, Actaeon. . .," wondering
at his absence, missing
the thrill of the kill.
And "Actaeon," in tone

innocent, excited
echoes today in its exile (unchosen, undeserved
and not bad luck exactly) echoes

because he cannot answer, strains to
through his muzzle, soft lips, thick tongue
of the herbivore, makes sounds

not animal, not human
and cannot and dies

in a body made exquisitely
for life, a trophy, a transport

for his name, lapsed quickly

on the lips of his companions (never
comprehending) on my lips now

ironic, uncertain, changed as he

who saw her
saw through the guise of modesty and boyish
enthusiasm her bright body wet
as any mortal's, saw

through no effort nor virtue nor fault
of his own, his eyes a deer's eyes

darkening, widening, feminine, startled
who otherwise would be unknown to us.