human faces engraved in stone
Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

Agamemnon's Shadow Speaks by Nina Kossman

Too many thoughts

mind too small

crowded there


he said

Give me more brain

make me a genius

or else

I'll steal your cow

I'll make war

I'll kill your men

you kill mine

said Agamemnon

or one of the other pot-bellied kings

too many men

too little bread

what to do

let's make war

said he of the big belly

and of the big mustache

chief of the walled city


maybe no worse than Troy

our women you know

they don't run around

from city to city

like what's her name

because of whom this war

they stay put

inside the walled city

they don't betray you with a stranger

better with the next of kin

when they kill you

it's straightforward

in a bathtub

with a fishnet

you come home from work—and bam!

no time to regret

no big war

no Troy

no army

it's between you and your spouse

and maybe your concubine


why was she underfoot

she with her prophecies

so she goes too

not too much blood

very orderly

then your spouse rules

with her new spouse

he next of kin

we're all blood relatives here

call my slaves

wash off my blood

until my bathtub is sparkling clean

I told this story too many times

feeling tired now

said Agamemnon's shadow


Nina Kossman is a Moscow-born poet, playwright, writer, painter, and translator of Russian poetry. Her short stories and poems in English have been published in journals in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Among her published works are three books of poems in Russian and English, two volumes of translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems, two collections of short stories, and a novel. For Oxford University Press, she edited the anthology Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths. Her writing has been translated into Greek, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish, and she is the recipient of a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, an NEA translation fellowship, and grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and Fundación Valparaíso. She lives in New York.

Author's note

From Nina Kossman's introduction to Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001): "If we think we now know the answers, it is because the questions were first posed in antiquity. If we now see far, it is because we stand on the shoulders of tradition. Myths belong to us as much or as little as the imagery of our own unconscious: the deeper we dig into our psyches the more likely we are to stumble upon an ancient myth. Our ancestors are us or we are our ancestors: the texture of our bones is passed on, along with the texture of our dreams. And perhaps it is because the myths echo the structure of our unconscious that every new generation of poets finds them an inexhaustible source of inspiration and self-recognition."