The Performance BY JAMES L. DICKEY The last time I saw Donald Armstrong He was staggering oddly off into the sun, Going down, off the Philippine Islands. I let my shovel fall, and put that hand Above my eyes, and moved some way to one side That his body might pass through the sun,
And I saw how well he was not Standing there on his hands, On his spindle-shanked forearms balanced, Unbalanced, with his big feet looming and waving In the great, untrustworthy air He flew in each night, when it darkened.
Dust fanned in scraped puffs from the earth Between his arms, and blood turned his face inside out, To demonstrate its suppleness Of veins, as he perfected his role. Next day, he toppled his head off On an island beach to the south,
And the enemy’s two-handed sword Did not fall from anyone’s hands At that miraculous sight, As the head rolled over upon Its wide-eyed face, and fell Into the inadequate grave
He had dug for himself, under pressure. Yet I put my flat hand to my eyebrows Months later, to see him again In the sun, when I learned how he died, And imagined him, there, Come, judged, before his small captors,
Doing all his lean tricks to amaze them— The back somersault, the kip-up— And at last, the stand on his hands, Perfect, with his feet together, His head down, evenly breathing, As the sun poured from the sea
And the headsman broke down In a blaze of tears, in that light Of the thin, long human frame Upside down in its own strange joy, And, if some other one had not told him, Would have cut off the feet
Instead of the head, And if Armstrong had not presently risen In kingly, round-shouldered attendance, And then knelt down in himself Beside his hacked, glittering grave, having done All things in this life that he could.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."