Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Labor

Anyone familiar with Homer's Iliad or Odyssey will recognize some of the characters here. This poem is written from the point of view of Ulysses as he builds his (in)famous Trojan horse.

The last line is particularly cruel considering the return voyage takes Ulysses another ten years. lol

Labor

Much heated discussion is had on the matter,
a rare occasion indeed 
for men of action such as these. 
And I remain silent throughout, 
which is rarer still.

The idea is mine, I confess, a  daring tactic
more cunning than valorous,
but I won't argue its merits.
I shall let it speak for itself and hope
that homesickness vanquish this stubborn pride,
the warrior ethos.

They wrinkle noses in disdain upon hearing my scheme
but withhold judgment. A decade of war
has tempered anger and sated blood-thirst. 
King Agamemnon puts the matter to vote:
All but one grunts Ay in favor.

My heart exults! How desperately I yearn
to lay eyes on beloved wife and son.
How I yearn to embrace them once more!
How I burn to put the shores of Illium at my back
and walk upon the sands of Ithaca again.

My coming here
was a matter not of politics, but of piety.
I came avenging the gods and enforcing their law,
for every man knows that to covet
his neighbor's wife is sin, and if he
must covet then he must not lay hands upon her;
and if lays hands, he had best prepare
to meet his neighbor on the battlefield.




Thus did we come, my brothers and I, 
to avenge this affront and reclaim what was taken.

With Agamemnon's approval the work begins.
I journey to the woods myself,
a hundred leagues in enemy country,
so that I may select the beams with my own hand.
Like a high-priest scouring the herd for a choice sacrifice
I examine towering sentinels swaying silently, 
wind-breath rustling their leaves.

Breathing the forest deep into my lungs, I search.
In the choosing I see not the tree 
but the beam encased within its trunk;
and the beam is no beam 
but the spine of this magnificent beast
upon whose back I ride homeward.

In that moment spears of light pierce
the forest cloak; a kaleidoscope
whirls and dances upon my face.
The wood is transfigured. 
No mere clearing but a temple now.
In that moment past and future come 'round
forming an unbroken ring and 
all stands in perfect stillness.
Ah, the Truth fills me! I see neither home nor war
nor wife nor king: all is God manifest!

Achilles bristles at the delay.
This temple of mine is but a clearing in his eyes,
the trees kindling. Where is the twine, he growls,
that we may string this wooden horse together
and slay the Trojans once and for all?

Brave son of Thetis, half-god and full-fool!
If the inferno roaring in his breast
burned behind the eyes how much more 
the Trojans would fear him!
Alas, Achilles has glimpsed his own death
and rushes to it heedless, eager to find Patroclus
on the fields of Elisium. 
I pay him no heed. 

For a decade we have labored
to coax the doors of Troy open.
We employed spears and arrows, threats and chariots
and still the gate is shut.
The way of the warrior for ten years has failed:
now we follow the trickster's path.

The saw is foreign in my hand.
My soul cries, Where is the spear?
What device do you place in my grip?
The hand pays no mind. With every stroke and every swing
it stirs, awakening from the slumber of war
'till the soul falls silent. 

My brothers, valorous fools, see only logs.

I see Ithaca. I see Penelope and Telemachus.
I see mother and father.
I see brothers felled by Trojan spears
and brothers not yet lost,
not in Hades nor in Elysium 
but surrounding me in the wood.
All forms rise up from God as if from sea-foam
and recede quickly beneath the waves, 
giving way to more dancing shapes.

I see the Horse.




Every nail, every stroke, every shave:
I am each one, immersed in the moment
and lost in the memory of love and passion.
I'm no longer here at all.
I step away from myself and watch as legs meet spine,
as ribs bloom, forming flanks left and right.
The spine elongates and stoops,
grows mane and muzzle both.

Hours, days, weeks: I know not how many pass.
The horse rises from the dust of the earth
as if assembled by an unseen carpenter.
And it is so! 
This flesh, these hands, they are the chariot:
where is the rider?

Undetectable. Unknowable.
The Master Worker
conjured our Horse from gray ether:
Not I!
Is this the presence I felt
in the dappled wood?

The Horse stands before me, hollow belly
lined with benches.
Dawn breaks the sea's polished mirror.
Raise anchor, brothers! Agamemnon bellows.
This evening we take Troy at last!

The labor dwells in me now. I ache from it. 
Sawdust coats my skin. 
Calloused hands and splinters, 
these are my offering to the Master Worker.
I infused the horse with a part of me 
never to be reclaimed. This is my offering to God,
my labor, my sacrifice: I pray
that he send me swiftly home.
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