Poetry: Frances Leviston

Propylaea

It is properly
the gate before the gate,
the entrance before the entrance,
a huge tautology

made of marble
and the old ambition
to be understood in a certain way.
The long approach

up hairpin
rubble resembling steps
towards the massive entablature
and baking summit

frames blue sky
and the heads of those
who comprehend in the foreground;
it glorifies

more than ever
the sanctuaries waiting
beyond, behind these colonnades’
unprotected sides.

When there is
an opening but no dividing
wall, the emphasis falls on process
instead of destination –

that is to say,
you come with your hands
shielding your eyes, in deference,
or not at all;

and those of us
who make the passage
correctly cannot return by the same
route that shut

its eye invisibly
after we entered, and hope
for the opposite change in reverse:
we are stuck

in the kingdom
of knowledge we came
here for, too perfectly primed
inductees of a cult

finding what
they thought was true
more true when it finally occurs,
forms emerging

as the dust clears,
enormous structures
maintaining their perspectives
from the deep past

to here. It has
all been done before:
original figures, the seven plots.
We can relax

beside the stone-
sandaled caryatids,
their unmoved skirts giving shade
from the sun

as it’s shone
for thousands of years,
lighting all this toil and splendour;
can feel our own

ambitions recede
then colossally resurge,
partial and imposing, like the door
behind the door,

hinged on nothing,
promising this: if there is
an opening but no dividing wall,
the emphasis falls.

Printed in Edinburgh Review Issue 131: Encounters.

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