Friday, February 29, 2008

Second Thoughts

You know how, yesterday, I apologized for my little parody of Homer from the week before? Can I take the apology back?

I had some second thoughts about it last night, when I was on the rowing machine at the gym, listening to Styx--Come sail away! I just can't let sleeping dogs lie.

I started tinkering with it again on the 8:07 pm train back to CT, and I was still hammering away at it on the sofa last night, about 12:30 am, when I finally dragged myself to bed for some very agitated slumber.

I think I may have come up with something at least passable, if not poetical.


“But now the suitors trooped in with all their swagger
And took their seats on low and high backed chairs.”

—Homer, The Odyssey, I.169-170., tr. Robert Fagles

Since one should never grant Reality
Jurisdiction over human life,
I’ve been rewriting Homer’s Odyssey—
Pretending I’m Ulysses. You’re my wife
In this new version, my Penelope.
I come—exhausted—from the arms of strife:
I’ve just spent seven years inside a cave,
The plaything of Calypso. A love slave

Is not the life for me. Though divine,
Love making’s rather hard upon the knees
When you’re my age. And men must watch their wine
If working with large machinery. Please,
Penelope, be patient. I’ll be fine.
A lifetime of adventures on rough seas
Can leave a sailor—no—I won’t say limp—
But—for seven years I lived on shrimp,

Oysters, clams, and Lobster Thermidor—
Foods rich in zinc—a bitter chemical.
I don’t know what the oysters use it for;
I merely note that zinc’s available
In several things I don’t eat anymore.
Calypso used it for cholesterol:
She liked to think of me as her dessert
And careful preparation couldn’t hurt.

Calypso’s kitchen—her exotic flair
With spices, strange devices, and romance—
Left me, most mornings, paralyzed, I fear.
I don’t think love stood much of a chance
Between us. No. Nymphs do not declare
Affection for a pair of underpants
Kept folded in a drawer for twenty years.
And Nymphs do not dissolve, like salt, in tears.

Come here, Penelope. Have some champagne.
This crystal’s a great improvement on the shoe
I used to drink from. I am so ashamed.
The things that cruel Calypso made me do—
Every word she uttered was profane.
She was a scorpion, compared to you,
My dear—Penelope—my darling wife.
I’m lucky I escaped her with my life.

Penelope, I’ve something to discuss.
I have been thinking of retirement—
Abandoning the hot, Homeric fuss
For an existence less—well—violent:
To be a janitor, to drive a bus—
Pay taxes, and the butcher, and the rent!
Shall I say, “Sayonara,” to the port,
And take up bowling, or some other sport?

I know a few objections might be raised.
Your husband may show up in Babylon,
In jokes, immortalized as the milkmaid
Who is discovered in a leather thong
Behind a big bull, spying. I have prayed
For guidance from the gods—prayed hard and long—
And Heaven has been silent. I am still
Ulysses—king of Ithaca. I will

Not live forever. Yes, much earlier,
We should have had this little conversation.
In retrospect, too much may be too clear
To men involved in the affairs of any nation…
Wasn’t Telemachus’s hair much curlier,
And lighter, when I left? He’s changed. Our son.
Not only taller. He smiles like a stone.
How does he handle sitting on my throne?

Would you consider the lad self-reliant?
Do dingy diplomats command his ear?
“Son, listen, nobody could blind a giant—
A brute like Polyphemus—with a spear—
Forget a charred broomstick. All the science
Indicates he’d die.” I want to hear
About our boy, dear. Tell me, did he sigh
With satisfaction when he learnt I didn’t die?

He has this distant look which bothers me:
As if his dad were a museum piece—
An amphora—a piece of pottery
Dredged up from somewhere after centuries.
Does he realize he’s won the lottery?
I am Ulysses—not some fool with fleas
You try to pity, briefly, till the smells
Begin to catch up with your nostrils.

Perhaps we should have named the child Mike...
Are you certain that he belongs to us?
When I left Ithaca, he was a tyke—
So tiny. You raised him yourself. I trust
Your judgment, dear—your motherly insight.
Would he object to being devious
In a world where honest men cannot be found?
Please tell me that he walks on solid ground.

I want to know what kind of man he is,
Penelope, because, when we are dead,
This palace—and our people—will be his;
Us, this antique furniture—the bed
Where you received a young man with a kiss
That shook the stars—or so the servants said—
Might easily be tossed into the fire
And not be missed. And I would be a liar

If I said otherwise. Penelope—
I’m old. I’m tired. I’m dying for a bath.
I’d settle for a pot in which to pee.
Penelope, downstairs, they’ll hear you laugh!
You haven’t changed. You’re still my Queen, I see.
I never doubted you. But when I asked
About Telemachus your face turned white—
As if you’d seen a ghost. He’ll be alright.

Though in the banquet hall, as we speak, great
Cups of wine are being passed around,
As fifty pairs of lips prepare to break
Fresh bread together. I can hear the sound
As fifty greedy mouths agree to take
Turns with you, my dear, Ithaca’s crown.
For twenty years, they’ve gorged themselves at will:
Tomorrow I present them with the bill.

I didn’t travel all the way from Troy
To just roll over, like a dog, and die.
I won’t let any harm come to our boy—
But I must go. Help me to untie
This bundle. No, the gods do not destroy
These parasites. Telemachus and I
Do that. Now, let me borrow an old sheet:
It’s cold out there. I need to get some sleep.

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