As I mentioned on Saturday, the big motivating questions behind so much fan fiction are when did the two characters finally get together and how. But for me as a poet, the question is more about who gets to “report” on these matters, and how do I do it with style, finesse, dignity and just a tiny bit of steam?
First, I set it after Gabrielle’s (brief) marriage to Perdicus. That gets the whole virginity thing out of the way, and it also gives me another chance to see Xena’s Hopeless Yearning (which is something that, as a writer, I have a whole lot more experience with anyway).
Alone on Her Wedding Night, I Think of the Past
Once upon a time, an innocent village girl
Left behind her village, parents, sister, even
Her betrothed, to seek adventure on the open
Road. Always ready to talk her way onto a farmer’s
Cart or out of a fight. Talking, stalling for time:
She has a real knack for using words. It’s as if
The words come to her, begging to be said
By her lips, molded to her uses by her tanned
Hands. If I could be a word, I’d come to her
To be said, over and over, like a litany
To Artemis the Huntress or Athena the Wise.
Why are all the best goddesses virgins? What is it
That men do to take a woman from her truest self?
Before I stood with her, I braided the garland
Of white flowers for her to wear. She should have
Had a laurel wreath, a crown to tell the world
Of her mastery of words, and the mystery of it:
How she reaches out her hand to touch
The stars, caress the waxing moon, and when
Dawn breaks, a scroll lies next to my pillow.
Perhaps she will write for him now. I promise you,
He won’t know enough to appreciate it any more
Than I did. If I had a heart to break, I would cut it
Out of my chest, leave it to beat its last on some
Flat rock, garlanded with a discarded wreath
Of small white flowers, fading as night falls hard.
It doesn’t take a blinded Cyclops to see where this
Night is headed. There is a storm on the horizon,
Purple clouds rolling in with the flash of lightning
Piercing the repeated booms of thunder. And I,
I stand in the pelting rain, oblivious, cold,
Alone again. Once upon a time, foolishly,
I had thought it would be me.
I have some poems where I show Xena letting Callisto die in the sandpit, and then I made a bunch of poems set during the Athenian games, which shows all the characters (including Joxer, Salomoneus and Autolycus) dealing with Gabrielle’s grief and mourning. Xena gets (briefly) killed and comes back with her friends’ help and then the ladies get back on the road.
I chose to have Xena be the one to tell what happened, but in an indirect format. Since Gabrielle is usually the bard/poet, I though I would have Xena try a shy love poem. Because beginning poets almost inevitably lean on rhyme, I knew I had to use some rhyming elements, but because I wanted the poem to be dignified and not sing-songy or trite, I used a stanza form with endings ABCDEFGH, so the first line of every stanza would rhyme, etc. Also, in the first two stanzas I used end-stopped lines, which means that the line either ends with a comma or period, or it ends at a fairly sensible place in the sentence. I only start using enjammed lines in stanza three, where a sentence ends in the middle of a line and a new sentence begins right after. So, similar to the events the poem recalls, she starts out shy and awkward and gradually gains confidence and speed.
Shyly, X. Tries Her Hand at Poetry the Morning After
Four hundred nights I must have watched you sleep,
The dying fire catching the gold in your hair.
Your sweet breath rose and fell and rose again
With the rhythm of your dreams I was not in.
I did not see you clearly, not at first.
Experience makes innocence seem weak.
Not until you fought beside me did I see
That you had steel in you and your own light.
You were a secret I felt I had to keep.
I could not ever let you catch me stare
When you, eager, scratched the parchment with your pen
Or dutifully cut our dinner, gill from fin.
But it was the long spring nights that were the worst,
As I lay by the fire, cold and bleak,
Knowing my desire could never be
More than a whispered dream of warm delight.
I could not know how time would make you weep.
The violence of my life you chose to share
Would take your light and heart and try to rend
Them apart, a battle you could not win.
Your pain, my fault; because of my past, cursed.
What changed it all was tragedy. We are Greeks.
We never take life easy. You and he
Married, deflowered, widowed: one day, one night.
The poets say that what we sow, we reap.
I had to make it right. I could not bear
To see you in such pain, my more than friend.
My vengeance had little glory, was messy, thin,
A deed I had to do, although perverse.
And after, it was hard for us to speak
Of any of it. The silence between you and me
Crashed through the trees behind us like a kite.
It took a few more months for you to steep
In your grief, to face the morning air
Without mourning his reaching of life’s end,
His power over you and its long romance.
You threw large stones into the watercourse.
You say you did not dream. Tears on your cheek
Kept my hand from touching your knee
To “comfort,” a self-deception I had to fight.
Then, one evening I heard you moaning in your sleep,
Crying out my name, demanding more!
You were tearing at your clothes and then
Reaching for me. I felt my whole world spin.
I touched your face. I thought my heart would burst
As your eyes flew open, blushing that I could see
All of you now seeing all of me
Finally! At last! And then, all night…