Three for Homer

I confess.  I read Homer back in my college days, and the stories have stayed with me ever since.  I guess that is why they are considered classics.  The following three poems are responses to Homer.  They were not written as a set, but putting them together shows how these stories have continued to live in me.

 

And Thus They Stay

They are always thus, though down we lay the book

And thus they stay within our simple minds.

Achilles sulking in a tent about a slave,

And Hector leading Trojan bands, and Helen

Looking down upon the plains to see what fools men be,

Odysseus and both  Ajaxes fighting on

And countless swords that cleave unto

The teeth and spirits tumbling into Hell,

With burning ships and Patroclus disguised–And thus they stay.

*

I wonder what these noble warriors were

Before, when Helen lay in Menelaus’ bed,

When Telemachus doddled on Odysseus knee,

While Agamemnon tended to his grapes

And Priam walked the Trojan walls, looking out across

The sea and only seabird cries disturbed the peace.

Far better had it stayed that way, and yet,

Then who would make an epic out of this

To last the centuries or haunt the mind long after

Every line is read, the cover closed, and all is put away.

The Aftermath

He never spoke of the aftermath when Odysseus, splattered

by the suitor’s blood, stood forth before Penelope.

The rest is poet’s license, the musings of an aging man

who sang snatches of his stanzas to earn a king’s faint praise,

a cup of wine, a wedge of cheese, or a place about the open fire upon a winter’s night.

*

He never spoke of Penelope who, across the fouling gore

seeing him wave his servants to clean the inconvenient mess,

rose up with flaming eyes, turned words to spears and thoughts to swords

And spoke–“I have resisted better men than you, and sent them home

to moan their failings to their gods–and you, with lesser cause,

sent souls to hell to sate your jealous pride.”

*

He never told the aftermath, of Telemachus, haunted in his dreams

by those he slayed, until, within his cup he sought but never found

oblivion.  At last, when what he was was lost and but a husk remained,

he cast himself away upon a cliff in Ithaca.

*

He never spoke of hapless days and nights.  Alone, Odysseus sat

within his homeless house nursing wounded vanity,

constructing justifications for his deeds, excuses for his tardiness,

rewriting in his mind his dalliances, creating of himself the victim

of abusing gods.  And that, at last, gave birth to rage, and one fell night,

he took Penelope by the throat and righted all his wrongs.

*

He never told the aftermath, how Odysseus again set sail,

spoke bravely to his men, urging ancient arms to renewed feats.

“That which we are, we are,” he said, and was never heard again.

It was enough to please a pompous king with happy endings–to hide

That truth is rarely beautiful, and beauty is rarely truth.

Ten Years

Helen was beautiful, but ten years takes

its toil.  Crows eyes split the silky

skin.  Grey hair strayed among

the burnished strands.  Ten years of bearing

children, cleaning rooms, fire

building, grubbing among the gardens,

making gyros sandwiches and moussake–

all beneath Aegean noons and

Asian winds–the anteing up with sexy

dresses and make up (a little more

each year) so Paris would find the perfect

wife waiting each night when he

left off from a busy day at the office.

No wonder something snapped.  She was quite

mad before the moment Menelaus affected

the fabled rescue.  A fifteen-years-younger,

veiled, look-a-like was substituted

for public appearances, while Helen was hustled

away to an awaiting villa, far from

the public eye–not unlike what Peter

did, who made do with a pumpkin shell.

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