Self-Portrait as Semiramis

Had I been raised by doves
wouldn’t I have learned
to fly
By wolves
to hunt in packs
Had I been raised by gods
wouldn’t I too
be godlike
In the movies the orphan
is the killer
not loved enough
But wasn’t I
My mother
fish goddess
dove into the sea
for the sin of loving
a mortal man
I love a mortal man too
At night I coax him
from sleep
rousing him
with my mouth
By day
we build high brick walls
around us
        	  our Babylon
Had my mother lived
to see me rise from this boundless
        	would she recognize me
as I have grown large
and my arms have become
the long arms of the sea
reaching over
        	         and over
                                	     	    for the shore

Copyright © 2018 by Mary-Kim Arnold. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 12, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Semiramis took the throne of ancient Assyria after the death of her husband, the king. During her reign, she restored Babylon and grew the kingdom. Monuments were erected in her name. For a woman to have ruled so successfully seems so unimaginable that over time she has become obscured by myth and legend. It is said that she was abandoned at birth and raised by doves and, therefore, not fully human. It has been said that she was so beautiful, so ruthless, and so promiscuous that she took countless lovers and slaughtered them after they had served her, leading her to become feared and hated. I am drawn to how the figure of the orphan, unnamed and untethered to family or history, can serve as a blank canvas on which a society can project its preoccupations and fears.”
—Mary-Kim Arnold