Ode to the Artistic Temperament



Awake at dawn, Medusa feeds her hair
With mice she raises specially beneath
The kitchen sink, her landlord unaware.

She sips her coffee, dons the mystic wreath
That keeps her form and features well disguised,
Ignites the spell, and goes to brush her teeth.

The mirror shows her plain and middle-sized,
A simple mortal hardly worth a glance.
Success, in other words. She’s unsurprised.

For magic always works, its lying dance
Detestable. It leaves her feeling stained,
Constricted, itchy, trapped by circumstance.

She slithers down the stairs, her self restrained,
And knows her true integrity’s maintained.


The cellar-level space she rents to work
Is cramped with statues—carved, she’s proud to say.
She hasn’t petrified a single jerk

In centuries, prefers the harder way,
The honesty it forces through the stone:
A slip, and all her effort’s gone astray.

She’s done with cheating, simply won’t condone
Abusive ways she formerly allowed
Although the choice has left her here alone.

Remembering, she blinks away the cloud
Across her vision, breathes and tries to shake
The thoughts that wrap her tight as any shroud.

Her sisters’ shouting, sure of her mistake,
Will ever echo, ever burn and ache.


It seems a hundred thousand years ago
That Euryale spat her sheer contempt
While Stheno grumbled, poisonous and low:

“Humanity’s a crutch, and we’re exempt
From all its false morality! Arise!
Embrace the curse! We’re meant to live unkempt!

“Destroy your shackles! Smash the yoke that tries
To grind the individual to dust!
If we’re the monsters, show the term applies!

“For every stab they aim at us, we must
Return the favor, practice what we preach,
And stoke their anger, gluttony, and lust!”

Her sisters flared their claws with every screech.
Medusa sneered and rose to hiss her speech:


“Enough with all this stupid, useless talk!
It’s three against a billion mortal souls!
Our efforts won’t create the slightest shock!

“A true, successful monster harbors goals—
Attainable, deliberate, sincere—
And uses tools humanity controls!

“A true, successful monster reaches here”—
Medusa tapped her scaly, shapely chest—
“Attacks the heart, instilling honest fear!”

Naïve, they called her, feckless, weak, the rest
Of all the angry epithets they knew
Before they stalked away. “It’s for the best,”

Medusa mumbled, thinking it was true,
But swift as sparks, the spinning decades flew.


Poetic stories twice declared her slain.
In midnight fields of mud, she coiled and wept,
Her sisters bloody, mangled, soaked with rain.

As mortal cities spread, Medusa crept,
Enchanted, torn by wonder, grief, and hate.
Within their midst, she lived and ate and slept

And ran a scheme that let her aggregate
Sufficient funds to live in quietude:
She’d turn a random stranger into slate,

Then sell the statue, innocent or lewd.
Suspicious accusations came and went,
The Middle Ages moldy, dark, and rude—

Except the architecture, heaven sent
But breeding still a certain discontent.


Cathedral stone would send her half-insane,
Ecstatic, moaning, crawling end to end,
Incredulous to think the human brain

For all its rush to blame and condescend,
Had harnessed such techniques, producing art!
She kept locating more to recommend,

Enraptured, finding statues full of heart,
Alive in ways she knew she couldn’t match.
She vowed she’d learn to carve, to make a start.

The decades passed again, and batch by batch,
Medusa grew to love the secret shape
A rock contained, awaiting strike and scratch,

Exposing truth with each revealing scrape,
Emotions frozen, longing to escape.


Her hair begins to cough. She climbs the stairs,
Another dusk enveloping the sky
As lights illumine all the city’s squares.

The bistro down the block has pizza pie
And conversation: artists, writers, songs,
A panoply to fill and fortify.

Medusa rarely talks among the throngs
But nods to those whose faces through the years
Have made her understand that she belongs.

They ebb and flow, but still, she calls them peers,
Ephemeral but lasting, air and fire,
Creating joys and torments, hopes and fears.

Apart but still a part, she won’t retire
As long as mortals seethe with such desire.


— Michael H. Payne


Michael H. Payne’s poems have appeared in places like Silver Blade, Gathering Storm, the Civilized Beasts collection, and the Rhysling Award anthology. His short stories have appeared in places like Asimov’s SF, the Sword and Sorceress anthology, and the Writers of the Future contest collections. His novels have been published by Tor Books and Sofawolf Press. He updates his webcomics Monday through Friday, hosts a Sunday afternoon radio program at the local university, and both writes and helps curate My Little Pony fanfiction for Equestria Daily and the Royal Canterlot Library. He would also like to thank the community at writeoff.me without whom this poem would not exist.



Editor’s Note: The terza rima is an Italian rhyming form of interlocked tercets (aba, bcb, cdc…zz) quite suitable for narrative poems. It’s a form first used by Dante Alighieri. Typical Medussa images are gruesome, here, a more seductive version fits this poem. It is from Medusa wallpaper by Jooomshaper (WDF-68709).

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