Dusk & Drachmas

February 27

The Monday sea is grey marble, traced with tidal fissures. A single bolt of blue scythes the clouds. Kites dart and dive against the feathered sky, flying high like harpies, gryphons, and iridescent birds. As the bus skims south along the Aegean, the sea turns to lapis. From the clouds, fine-spun skeins of light are combed out straight.

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At the southern foot of Attica, a low headland wades into the Aegean. Before hauling anchor for highsea, sailors came here to Sounion’s Temple, drowning the altar in offerings for Poseidon, tempestuous seagod. From these cliffs, Aegeus stepped off into the bone-churning surf when he believed his son Theseus was coming home in a coffin.

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Ever since I dressed in sea-rags and frothing tulle to play the storm-rider in our fifth grade performance, Poseidon has been another negligent uncle of mine. So I climb the headland to visit the old captain. I am not the first to feel compelled up the slopes with their fringe of sage and yellow wildflowers. Even Lord Byron left his name here for Poseidon’s benediction, knifing it into the marble of an eastern column alongside the aliases of hundreds of other 19th century romantics, ruffians, and rogues.

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The cliffs are a tired red, faded from the incandescent days of the gods when colors were brighter. Like a shipwrecked skeleton, Poseidon’s Temple looks as if it washed up in a storm, vertebrae scattered amongst the yellow bloom. Scarred and stained from two thousand years of sea storms, the marble is the color of drowned bones.

As the wind wrings the last warmth from the sunshine, the water turns to crushed silk, threaded with platinum in the west. Then the sun slips into the sea, like a golden Drachma skipped by a squint-eyed sailor. Thin as hammered gold, the sun slices through the seam between sea and sky.

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