The Siren’s Promise

Kai Holmwood

The Siren’s Promise

“How much are you willing to give?

let me hear the words within your words

My plea, demand, need
is only you

Let me know the faults in your lover
in the piece of your heart she can’t master

Tell me the shards left unspoken
the stories that shape who you are.”

Somewhere in all of this
for all of this
you give up your soul,
you give up your self

She said,
“This is art in the form of temptation—
let me come back into your hand.”


Kai Holmwood’s speculative fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in DreamForge, Aurealis, and Solarpunk Creatures among others. She has an M.A. in Writing from the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand and was awarded the H. W. Hill Prize at UC Berkeley. She lives in rural Portugal with her Brazilian husband and two giant mastiffs they accidentally adopted.

Backstory: “The Siren’s Promise” started from its ending. The final two lines sprang into my mind on the third painful night of insomnia after wisdom tooth surgery. I had some sense of the character who was speaking: a woman somewhere between a siren, a muse, and a mistress. Once I worked out that the poem’s speaker is utterly under the siren’s spell (whether you take that literally or figuratively), I decided that most of the poem should be the speaker recounting the siren’s words, with her enchantment so complete that the speaker’s own voice is almost lost. From there, it was a matter of shaping lines that tangled the siren/muse/mistress roles into a melding of desire, creation, vulnerability, and the human yearning to be truly seen.

Editor’s Notes: From the image citation below, “On the surface, this story seems to be a cautionary tale about the influence beautiful women can have over men. This, however, is not what the story is about. Cicero tells us the true meaning of the story in De Finibus V.18:

…it was not the sweetness of their voices or the novelty and diversity of their songs, but their professions of knowledge that used to attract the passing voyageurs; it was the passion for learning that kept men rooted to the Sirens’ rocky shores. Homer was aware that his story would not sound plausible if the magic that held his hero immeshed was merely an idle song! It is knowledge that the Sirens offer, and it was no marvel if a lover of wisdom held this dearer than his home.”

Image Credit: “The Lure of the Sirens in the Odyssey Isn’t What You Think It Is” by Douglas C. Bates: Ancient Greek philosophies of life.

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