Elizabeth Barton

Leaves of a Sibyl
Delphi, Mount Parnassus

I see the fall of an empire
in the way a spider
eats her web.

The linnets are my oracles –
they gossip in the weeds,
bring me news of shortages
of olives and barley,
rumours of plague and war;

each oak leaf is a tongue
that flames with prophecies.
Each time I climb these steps
to Apollo’s sanctuary,
where the sacred smoke
belches from a crack in the earth,
it frightens me

but times are dark
and people must have answers.
Great men consult me –
Will I destroy my enemies?
Am I a god?

I do not need their bribes
of honey cake and silver bowls,
the shining entrails of a goat
to know their days will end
in bitterness.

I stoke the fire, inhale the smoke
of laurel, loosen my braids,
sway my hips until, from deep
in the swirling belly of the earth,
I hear the Python’s hiss –

verses burn on my lips.

Elizabeth Barton read English at Christ’s College, Cambridge, after which she worked as a teacher and freelance writer. She has lived in Spain and the U.S. and now lives in Surrey where she is Stanza Rep for Mole Valley Poets. Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in Acumen, Agenda, Orbis, The Dawntreader, The Curlew and The Frogmore Papers.