The Other Symposium

Brittany Ober

**content warning: implied sexual content**


let us dispense with the flute-girl… let her play for herself or, if she prefers, for the women in the house


While the noble men lounged

in a circle of couches to sip

at wine and explicate

their sacred love for each

other, we congregated

in the shadows of the citadel

slugging grapes meant for our betters

from pilfered casks.


True, they had sent us

a flute-girl for entertainment,

but holing up in the sitting

room seemed impossible

on such a temperate night

with the sweet sounds of errant

instruments floating through

the curtains, drawing us out,

a silent battalion of women.


There was no need to talk.

Calliope and Daphne danced

hand-in-hand with muffled laughter.

Ophelia was weaving a crown

of laurels for her own head.

Penelope recited corrupt poems

from parchment she’d found

in the gutter. I was trashing

my husband’s stash of letters

sending them straight down a well.

He didn’t even know I could read!


Some common boys

with souls unformed

came upon us make-believing

a javelin throw. The tallest

one, destined to work

for a merchant, must

have been the original

Kouros, and we locked gazes

just at the moment he threw

his invisible spear. He sauntered

over with obsidian eyes

more beautiful than Zeus.
I lifted the cask to his lips

so he could sip the wine, a mere

offering. His ironic smile

instantly engraved itself

upon my mind’s clay urn

in clean dynamic lines.

He moved like an arrow,

pulled me behind a pillar

and lifted my dress in the dark.


Calliope and Daphne were

doing the same thing in the shade

of some other Corinthian temple.

Why should they have all

the fun? I gave in to his hands.

My own skin had never felt

as soft. No wonder the men of Athens

kept all the boys to themselves

and created an entire philosophy

to hoard them. His mouth

was a star in Orion’s belt, no,

better yet, he was Orion

hunting the truth out of my bones

just to seize it: This was freedom,

this feeling of cold marble

against my spine and such raw

heat untethered by law or virtue.

About the Author

Brittany Ober (she/her/hers) teaches at the American Language Program at Columbia University. Her chapbook Easy Beat was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2010. Her poetry has been published in Ample Remains, The Aurora Journal, Breadcrumbs, Words & Whispers, and Riverbed Review, among others, and is forthcoming in Main Squeeze. She lives in (and loves) Queens, New York.