Hermes and the Other Woman / Sean Patrick Mulroy
You know that he works hard and you like to do nice things for him, so you come home early from the office thinking you’ll clean the apartment. You’re taking a nap upstairs when you wake up to muffled laughter, him and somebody else in the kitchen. It sounds like a woman.
You think, This is it, and wonder how long it will take to pack your bags. Or how long it will take him to pack his bags. How long you’ll hold up in a screaming match with the god of rhetoric before you dissolve into pathetic mortal tears.
You call yourself a sucker and a child. You think, How stupid could you possibly be, to fall in love with a trickster god? You run your mind over the old stories—Hermes and Hecate. Hermes and Persephone.
Your exboyfriend in college and the girl who lived on his hall. Your exboyfriend in college and you.
You get out of bed. You toss your hair. You swallow hard. You smooth on a little 4:00 p.m. eyeliner. You rinse your mouth out with Scope. You put on an old pair of jeans, and quietly you creep downstairs, stopping outside the kitchen and listening at the door,
You hear the woman say, Do you think he knows?
You hear him say, I don’t think he suspects anything.
Now it’s one of those moments that everyone has. Finding strange underwear in your lover’s suitcase. The boy who wouldn’t even hold your hand finally marrying someone else. Wearing your best shirt to the party and the one you wore it for hooking up with your best friend in the bathroom.
Moments when the blood flow in your face does a full reverse, and your vision goes tornado green. Your body is the eerie calm before the worst kind storm—the fear that love is going to make a fool of you again. That anyone else would have seen that it was heartbreak weather outside, and worn a better coat.
You want to scream, but instead you hold your breath, as the woman says,
Well, Hermes, should we tell him?
Of course I do, he says. My love, why don’t you stop lurking outside the door and come in?
The door opens, and a beautiful older woman is standing beside your god, cupping a mug of tea between her hands.
Hello, she says, I’m Hera. Hermes and I were just talking about what a magnificent spirit you have. What a great companion you’ve been to him.
Hermes takes your hand, and kneels.
Beloved, I want to ask you something. Hera is the goddess of power, a friend. I’ve asked her here because I want to offer you eternity. Not the mortal kind. I want you to join us on Olympus. To offer you dominion over anything you like, so long as it’s not taken. What do you say?
You’re so grateful that you can’t move. Not for the gift of immortality—but the gift of being wrong. For finally not being punished for letting your guard down. Hermes’ face does not waver. He looks at you with anticipation. Hera walks over to you, and places a warm hand on your cheek. When finally you speak, you can feel that something has already changed. It is as if your voice has developed better posture. You say,
Let me be the god of tempestuous hearts—of tiny boats trapped in brutal storms.
If there is a moment when you shiver before the knife slips into your back, let me be the god of that moment.
If there is no one else to pray to when you think the worst, when you’re sure that you can’t ever trust another lover again—call my name.
I will be the hand on the shoulder of those too frightened to jump.
The kiss on the forehead of those who flinch at shadows.
Sean Patrick Mulroy was born and raised in the American South. He lives all over the world now. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing Poetry from UW-Madison. Sean was the recipient of a fellowship from the Lambda Literary Organization in 2013, the Kurt Brown prize in 2017, and the Margaret Reid prize in 2019. He was a 2018 writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida, will be a 2019 resident artist at Villa Sarkia in Finland, and a 2020 resident at the Wallace Stegner house in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Read more Hermes poems: Hermes lends you his cap of invisibility while he is away for the weekend on business / Hermes opens up