Somewhere (perhaps beside them, perhaps from afar; history cannot tell us now) a slender girl with short, dark curls is watching. The poet Alcaeus will someday call her "Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho," but in this moment she is broken, listening to a man coax the laugh she so adores from the woman that she loves.
Sappho writes of herself as "trembling... green as grass", and this is quite possibly the first time envy is described as green.
It is this firstness, I think, that sends shivers down my spine each and every time I read the fragment of poetry we now call "Phainetai Moi". I do not know what she herself, the poetess Sappho of Lesbos, might've called this work; I do not know how she intended it to be sung; I do not know how she would feel to know that all that remains of her poems now are clumsy transliterations of tiny, fragmented shards.
I do know that she once wrote:
"You may forget but
let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us."
And I know that she was right- more right than she could ever have imagined.
There is something about Sappho that captivates me utterly. It is more than her lyrical gifts, though I have always loved poets; it is something I cannot define, something that draws me in and makes me feel for and with a woman who lived and died in a time so very foreign from my own. There are things that we share, Sappho and I: a common heartache, a queerness, an abiding love of words.
But in this poem, "Phainetai Moi" ("He looked to me like a god"), there is something else that attaches my heart.
It is the idea that writing is a means of survival.
It is the idea that from pain, from loss, from confusion and struggle and strife can come words so lovely that they break hearts centuries distant from your own.
It is the idea that on some ordinary day in Lesbos, an ordinary young woman (a homosexual woman, at that) wrote of her ordinary jealousy as ordinary grass-green and ensured that she would never, ever be forgotten.