By the dry pool where kings and ambassadors come
to purify and prepare themselves for the god,
looking for guidance, hoping for confirmation
of a decision already made in the depths of the heart;
I dip my hand in the cool water of the nearby spring
honing my own question for the priestess-seer.
The climb up the Sacred Way zigzags through an empty museum,
looted of its treasures long ago and dozing in the sun:
a journey to prepare the seeker in mind and body
for that brief encounter with the divine
in a remote valley at the middle of the world.
In this fierce light and relentless heat Apollo
tests our resolve, step by shadeless step,
until at last we come to the huge altar
drenched in the blood of vain sacrifices,
the smoke of burning animal fat and bones
rising in a sightless sky to the ritual cries of the women.
Six columns of the temple still stand, looking over the sacred valley.
How did they feel as they stood here looking at this scene,
awaiting their turn? What fears? What hopes? What expectations?
The priest leads me inside in my turn
to the dark rock cleft where an old woman sits
on a gold tripod, wreathed in sacred juniper fumes.
I ask my question to the midday silence. Apollo,
voiceless now without his Pythian interpreter,
stares intensely with his single eye
as if to burn an answer in my brain.
Serene and calm, he gazes beyond the world.
The silence is not broken: the search never ceases.