Literature 2-6-2007

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Michael Helgemoe

"What Light" presents a new poem by a Minnesota poet every week. The work is chosen by a jury of writers, publishers, and editors, and sponsored by Magers and Quinn Booksellers. Look for the anthology of What Light poems: publication date is March 1.

Michael Helgemoe

The Daughters of Achelous

On cliff top above jagged rocks, surrounded
by roiling, silver waves, a dark crevice—
shadowed by fog—hides the offspring
of the river god, stirring in the misty morning.

Awake, rustling, it lifts itself up on rough haunches,
rolling grainy legs under & rises, sturdy, strong,
stretching mangy neck, clacking a brown beak
against rock and bone, trembling

with sleep. Eyes open, skin shows white under
thinning bird lines, & she is almost visible, her bent
beak folds into cleft skin, pursed, reddened, wings
climbing out. She shakes until feathers spew forth

& dangle, falling off, damp and bloody. Her hair
flows & shivers in the billowing wind, mimicking
the waves circling her where she now stands,
fiber turned to bone, cracked, bent, tissue pulled

apart & a young woman stands naked,
dripping red, grimacing. Behind her, two more
naked women stand fidgeting with feathers,
licking the blood off their swollen skin.

She lifts up a snow-white arm, brushing away
red locks, turning to the beasts behind her,
naked but for hair growing red like
hers, Aglaope, whose song brings temptation

to sailors, to the veteran boatswain of any fleet,
any army of the sea; the lyre of Pisinoe bringing
vessels closer through the fog; the beautiful
Thelxiepi, breathing wind, unveiling murderous rock.


When it comes to writing poetry, I write when I feel those creative juices flowing, and when the well has been tapped, I don’t write anymore. I’m not a big believer in sitting down for hours at a time, trying to create something from nothing. If the inspiration isn’t there, dangling right behind your eyes and trickling down your arm to the tip of your pen or to the ends of your fingers, then you’re wasting your time. You can’t force it. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’m sure we all have. “The Daughters of Achelous” was written in an attempt to personify nature using the mythological Sirens from Odysseus.


Michael Helgemoe lives in Richfield, Minnesota and is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, where he studied English literature. He has been published only a handful of times, but he is an optimist (occasionally a pragmatist) and looks forward to the evolution of his writing. He likes to consider himself a writer and poet; however, he happens to hold down a real job in Eagan, Minnesota. He is currently reading The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis and The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins.