David W. Landrum


When I first saw them (I was seventeen)
I was afraid—thought they were parasites,
worms in my eyes, a presence that would mean
blindness—that they would cut me off from light.

“It’s myosesopsia,” my doctor said.
“Entropic (in the eye itself), but not
unusual or anything to dread.
You’ll see them. They will not hinder your sight.”

Still, every sunset, every page I turn
of every book I read and every time
I look out at the world I can discern
their presence: blurry slugs, cobwebs, gray grime,
flotsam, jetsam, jellyfish that spread
pollution in the lake inside my head.

The Last Temple Maiden Leaves the 
Shrine of Artemis in Ephesus, 425 A.D.

I swept the sanctuary floor—the last
to leave, out from the ancient holy place
where Artemis was worshipped in the past,
where people came to bow and find her grace.

A thousand years, young women served as I
had served there—as a temple maiden, vowed
to chastity, expected to deny
the impulses of worldliness, endowed

with grace to live a life in abstinence,
to dwell in self-denial, not to know
the intimate embrace of marriage, since
we served a virgin goddess; to forgo

the joy of bearing children. As I went
out, leaving that behind, I wondered at
the number of girls, who, like me, were sent
to serve here through the years:  aristocrat

and commoner, the wealthy and the poor
all consecrated. Rank, status erased
when, pledged, they walked together through the door
that led to where we lived (the maiden place

we called it); and throughout their lives they dwelt,
and lived and died held in the temple’s care,
serving, denying everything they felt,
giving themselves—their souls and bodies—there.

But new faith has risen. Artemis 
cannot be worshiped any longer here.
The authorities instruct me to dismiss
my faith in her—the faith I held so dear

so very long. Today I’m going back—
back home, leaving the place I served ten years
to be married. My parents made a match.
I must obey them. “You should not shed tears,”

my mother scolds me as we walk the road
that leads down from the temple (empty now).
“Don’t be so glum,” she says. “Last night I sewed
your wedding dress. I can’t understand how

you can be gloomy. You will be a bride!
Bad luck to lament on your wedding day!”
Still, as I walk along and hear her chide,
my tears fall, try to stop them though I may.

I leave behind the life I knew—and all
the countless maidens who lived out their days
as I had lived till now—who heard the call
to purity—they’re gone and cannot raise

the simple prayers and paeans that arose
to Artemis, defender of children,
goddess of birth; the love of those who chose
a quiet path. They will not sing again.

David W. Landrum’s poetry has appeared widely in journals in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, and in English-language journals in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Nepal, including The Evansville Review, First Things, Measure, Hellas, The Formalist, Windover, Cha:  An Asian Literary Journal, Anglican Theological Review, and many others. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.