The poet A. E. Stallings lives in Athens, where the past is always bumping up against the present and ancient ruins stand amid trendy cafés. The old and new mingle in her work too. A classics scholar, Stallings tends to draw on Greek mythology and traditional poetic forms—but she uses them to explore thoroughly contemporary themes.
“Ajar” begins with something the ancient Greeks couldn’t have related to: a washing machine with a broken door. When the narrator and her presumed partner are forced to wash their clothes by hand, their frustration turns into impatience with each other. Perhaps some time in silence would be wiser, the other person says. But then Stallings pivots to the story of Pandora’s box—a gift from the gods that the titular character wasn’t supposed to open, and which wreaked havoc on the world when she did. What if the box released not sickness, war, and pain, but words? Language is powerful, Stallings suggests, and recklessly wielded, it can wrench apart a relationship.
Classical allusion might seem like a curious way to write about modern domestic strife. But relationship issues are timeless: Even thousands of years ago, before the walls of Greece’s monuments crumbled, there was love and bickering and heartbreak. One can only imagine that, millennia from now, when poets walk among the dusty remains of the Taj Mahal or the tattered billboards of Times Square, they’ll be stewing over the same subjects.
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