The Sibyl, singing out prophecies under her breath,
inscribed them on sun-hammered oak leaves
and laid their gold in her open mouth
for the wind to blow away
since no one in that place could read,
and cast aside any syllable she sang.
She dreamt God asked her what she wished for most.
With her hand, she held up sand and said,
‘Let me be a poet and live for as long
as the number of grains I hold.”
Those who raised her sought
more than her silence. It grew harder
to eat or sleep. She withered down
to nothing in their cave, no more than
the memory of an oak leaf
skittering across yellow grass.
They hung her whittled carapace
in a bottle in the trees, and children
came to poke her with sticks, screaming:
“Sibyl, Sibyl, what do you want?”
“I want to die,” she said.
When those who thought her already dead
discovered she still had her voice,
they broke her finger bones one by one
and made a cunning cricket cage
which they nailed to the rafters
and forgot her again, not hearing an outcry,
forgetting too that elsewhere crickets
are caught and kept exactly for their singing--
in cages set on pillows, they chirp through ivory bars
to comfort emperors’ concubines,
still awake, behind theirs silken ones.