By Stuart Jay Silverman
Family failings. It is too much, or almost,
to have to put up with, with it, or them,
the archetype of them being Odysseus,
almost before the Greeks were Greeks,
before the Romans took over, and the rest,
to whom it was all Greek, anyway.
He was on his way, a touch impatient,
you might imagine, delays a tiresome
consequence of travel, sea monsters,
lotus eaters, sirens tempting as a two-day pass,
the seas a constant torment what with the sea god
spanking the monkey underwater, and what a monkey!
the size of Polyphemus puffed with pain
that time, oh you remember, the stake
sharpened and rolled in the blistering embers
until the point grew hard as bronze
and he sent it sizzling into the socket
of that fish eye, his shoulder heaving,
his hands rolling it like a spit,
the giant twisting up onto his knees
his throat torn open with the howl.
He saw by the fire a gobbet of gore
shake free to sputter like sheep fat
thrown to the gods, a sacrifice.
But what of she who waited, her
propensity to wait her only failing,
playing the woman part dangerously.
How she put the suitors off, Homer
makes much of, the wife who preserves
her honor and his, a match in cunning
to him, the fabric of her deception,
but what of it? They were a bunch of louts,
looking for an easy lay, her juices
untapped for a double decade, if rumor
had it right, the house their object,
of course, though she wasn't bad for
her age, worth a hump now and then.
In the night, as they say, and so on.
Meanwhile, there was the scar by which he
proved his being, and the bow unbent/
unstrung by the rabble infesting the hall,
its gut he hooked easily to the notch,
and the faithful hound that, despite
twenty years of wear and tear—fleas,
burs tangling his fur like wool torn
from the loom, the comings and goings
at all hours, the beggarly rags worn by the
stranger—still knew him and thumped
his tail in recognition, good doggy—
not to mention, but I must, the braggart
who'd whined and begged table scraps
and thought the stranger an easy mark,
but learned his error the hard way.
What of the neighbors? what did they
make of the usual shouts from the house
in Ithaka rising into screams, then cut
off, the dying whimper bubbling away?
They all fade into background, and
the poets fade who made the man over,
Dante sending him to hell, Tennyson
grafting him an English tongue and a
worldview worthy of an English lord,
Walcott and Kazantzakis breaking the
mold, new-fashioning the crafty hero,
all fade, and the fadings fade, and the
light rises like smoke from the pages
again and again and again, weaving
the mantle by which we lend to our
stumbling feet the semblance of gods.
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