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 unwanted But wasn’t I most wanted 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 deep 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.
“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.”