In Greek mythology, the sphinx preyed on the young in the town of Thebes, devouring those who failed to solve her riddle. They all failed for a while, but when one didn’t, the sphinx threw herself off a mountaintop in despair. She had wings, but they didn’t open.
We have to tell you, they got it wrong. It was all a misunderstanding—
she wasn’t evil
she was just looking for beauty.
When she looked she found that town,
And she discovered the way
flesh gave away between her claws
and how muscle gave just
a bit more resistance
She felt the energy and life and passion
That a body gives itself only
when it knows it’s going to die.
Yes she ate her victims, but before that
she stared at them
and arranged their limbs to her liking
and she honored their bravery, their bold attempts
The way this one
With his ashen skin, and eyes,
and an image of his child in his mind
Fought for something bigger than himself
She kissed their hands and cried and called them casualties
to art, this beauty; for blood red and bone white
she tried, She failed, she knew it she gave up.
But can’t you sympathize.
You with your guns, and your bombs
and you who have the power
that comes with two-hundred thousand and more deaths,
You founded a nation on your search
and she only discovered the riddle
You and She and We
want the same thing.
She thought blood and you thought war and more
And We—We have been looking too
We think it’s here
Hidden behind us
in this space where
peace overrides us.
Where the ground
This original poem by University of Chicago student Rachel Harrington was inspired by Leon Golub’s 1956 painting The Ischian Sphinx on display in the Smart Museum of Art's special exhibition Monster Roster: Existentialist Art in Postwar Chicago (February 11–June 12, 2016).
Produced in collaboration with Memento, the performance ensemble of the UChicago literary magazine Memoryhouse. Filmed and edited by Erik L. Peterson.