Saturday, January 3, 2015

Winged Bats and Wounded Amazons: Poems by Sarah Z. Sleeper

Sarah Z. Sleeper is a poet and fiction writer. Her short story, “A Few Innocuous Lines,” won an award from Writer’s Digest. Her flash fiction, “Gretchen in the Box,” was published in The Story Shack. She served as editor-in-chief of the literary journal Masons' Road and was part of the editorial team for the book American Fiction, published by New Rivers Press. In her 20-year career prior to completing her MFA in 2012, her work appeared in Fortune, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Journal, and many more. She won three journalism awards and received a fellowship from the National Press Foundation. Read more on her website hereThe following poems are Sleeper's ekphrastic responses to a 2012 exhibit at Fairfield University's Bellarmine Museum of Art.   

Winged Bat Figure. Mexican
 (Veracruz), 250-500, 

Not Afraid of You

Your squishy fish mouth gapes and stinks sour. Your cockeyed fangs need sharpening and couldn’t pierce the skin of a zapote. Your tongue hangs listless, a limp impotent non-phallus, dangling ironically above your terracotta chastity belt. Olmecs and Aztecs spent terrified nights, afraid you’d escape from your cave, drag them to the devil’s underworld, imprison them forever in the land of the dead. But you can’t possibly hunt with those blind beetle eyes. And if your dense unfeathered wings don’t deny you flight, your alien skull and hammerhead tail will nosedive you into the Pico de Orizaba, leaving Veracruz to its peace.

Cloisonné Disk Brooch,
Frankish, 6th century.
Silver, garnets with patterned foils
Disgrace of Desiderata

A pinwheel of garnet—beautiful, not precious—commissioned by Charlemagne for Desiderata—lovely, not loved. She affixed it to her silken wrap to obscure the spot where her décolletage could have been seen, had he looked. Did he order his jeweler to make the edges uneven, the triangles dull and flattened, equal to his affection? When he sent Desiderata away to Lombard, disgraced and defeated, did she hurl it, clattering stone on stone? Did the King of the Franks offer the child Hildegard a brooch of bloody rubies and royal blue sapphires? And did he rip it from her bosom and ruin her too? 

Wounded Amazon, ca. 440 BCE.
Plaster cast from marble Roman copy
of original Greek bronze.

Penthesilea before Achilles

Penthesilea grieves for Ares and Otrera, a stony tear scars her right eye, the only chink in her flawless symmetry and perpetual, beautiful sadness. She’s fearsome and battle-ready, a study of physical power and dispassionate restraint. Her lips part in silent lament and she raises her arm to reveal a flesh wound, the cut not deep enough to amputate the memory of her guilt. She’s a brazen temptation to the Trojans, her heart unarmored for her deadly tryst with Achilles. Stripped of her weapons, her horse and her honor, she strides toward her suicide, bleeding nine rivers of blood for Hippolyta.


  1. I love the way she sees the story behind each work of art. Makes you stop and take another look at each piece.

  2. Thank you Anonymous! I tried to blend physical description, emotional reaction and historic storytelling. So happy to know they affected you.