All stories are segments excised from larger stories
and the limits of these excisions are forever determined
by the motives of ambitious storytellers.
For instance, many players have repeated the riddle
posed by the evil Sphinx to innocent young Oedipus:
“What walks on four legs at dawn, two at noon, and three come dark?”
To which the answer was unsurprisingly Man
–specifically one man, Oedipus himself, doomed since birth
by his father’s unnatural fear of yielding to the cycles of time.
But what if a woman were to elaborate the tale
and reintroduce some of what men consider irrelevant
to their own telling obsession with the rituals of the man-root harvest?
This new narrator might emphasize
that the footprints-of-man riddle was actually
the second question the Sphinx put to this winsome prince.
That she had asked before if he had lost his heart to her
as she had given up her own to him during that long, cold night
when she had held him while he laid in wait for the Oracle.
What if the rising sun had revealed her mutant body for what it was,
an alien form so unlike his own that he had been appalled
she should expect him to embrace such a sordid creature as his queen.
What if she had not condemned him to his fate but had tried to save him from it
by arranging with the gods for a Delphic appointment
by bartering away her own chance to ever love another?
What if the prize he won for being so clever with his riddled answer
was just what he said — to be a man forever caught
within the tight construction of what it means to be a man?
Different tales indeed!
Another storyteller’s tactic might extend the plot
to reveal how the Sphinx survived
the lethal shove her lover gave her off that high cliff.
And that even now she insists upon wearing his coral beads and silver crown
while continuing to rule over unsuspecting foreign lands
that breed men for the open-air arenas of blood diplomacy.
Or to set fear among the crowd the teller of scary tales might emphasize
how the Sphinx was outlawed for laying on her hands to read a king’s fate
if he asked it of her – and sometimes even when he didn’t.
Yet only I will reveal to you what the peoples of sand still whisper.
Oedipus’ most dreadful crime was not that he had tried to kill the Sphinx
but that when he stripped her of her power to sing he provoked her
to a series of febrile attachments to martial disasters and red-cross tents.