[encore] 518: Metamorphosis: The Female Into

[encore] 518: Metamorphosis: The Female Into

[encore] 518: Metamorphosis: The Female Into

This episode was originally released on 10/7/2021.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I’ve been thinking a lot about transitions lately. The way we must move between seasons and pretend it’s easy, move between ages, between jobs, houses, and big life events. Our whole lives are spent in transition and yet I know I will feel more at peace in a fixed or controlled state. I want things to be known, to be planned, to be smooth. 

I remember being in a meditation class at the Tibet House in New York City many years ago, and the teacher talking about how we either live in the past or the future and never in the present moment. Of course I’d heard it before, but it had never landed on me. That night on the subway, I had realized that the majority of my life was either spent deeply remembering or aggressively planning or even catastrophizing. I tried to just be, On the subway. With its bodies and smells and humanity. It’s funny to say it now but that moment changed my life.

Today’s poem talks about what it is to always be in a body that is being transformed into something else, or to be in a body that is asked to be something else. Beginning with the myth of Daphne turning into a laurel tree this poem expands on what it is to be in a body only seen as a symbol for something else. Like any good exploration of gender, this poem pulses and pulses until it becomes not about the body at all, but the mind alive in the barrage of images offered in the moment where everything is in transition. 

Metamorphosis: The Female Into
by Maggie Queeney

laurel tree, limbs bent and twined into crown          heifer         bank of marsh reeds,
handful lashed into pipes, song in another breath         a clutch of conifers, weeping

amber         black bear, quarry, constellation         white crow, black crow         grass-
cropping mare         flames         voice repeating the last         darkened mulberry

fragrant incense seeping out of the ground         violet-like flower tracing
the sun’s path rock         darkness-seeking bats         sea goddess         rock

rock         rock         rock           rock        seabirds         serpent         a prize, a bride
monster crowned in snakes, ossifier, weapon         black and white magpies

arguing in near-language         water-flowing-fountain         half-alive, half-dead
flock of tuneful, maiden-faced birds         one of a pair of mountains         crane

stork          ash-gray spider weaving her traps in the corners of the ceiling
corpse         corpse         corpse         corpse         corpse         corpse           corpse

spring weeping into the summit’s anorexic air         nightingale         swallow
traitor, mother, cast-off ex-wife, witch, weaver of the poisoned robe, deadly gift,

filicide, unnatural           marble figure         corpse         patricide, exile, heron
diadem in the sky         guinea hens         five isles         a further island         linden tree

slave then fisherman then mare then bird then cow then deer         weasel         lotus
that bleeds when plucked         lotus         spring flowing from a shrub-oak tree

male         twice-dead shade         rock         whores, shame burning their bodies red into
rock         myrrh         lioness         grove of oaks         halcyon         male         barking

bitch snapping her jaws                  snow-white doves         deadly whirlpool virgin-
faced hounds snarling between her thighs         water, then nothing         a statue

of a woman         a star inside her husband constellation         corpse, living female,
fountain of chilled water

"Metamorphosis: The Female Into" by Maggie Queeney. Used by permission of the poet.