JUN 09

Famous Reporter # 39







Antikleía to Odysseus in the Underworld

When he had prophesied, Teirasias’ shade
retired lordly to the halls of Death;
but I stood fast until my mother stirred,
moving to sip the black blood; then she knew me
and called out sorrowfully to me:
Book XI The Odyssey
This is a bitter loving —
You whom I nourished with my body’s milk
now offer me the blood of sacrifice.
So many years. What news there was of you
brought only tears of loss and grief — ships and lives
splintered up and scattered by the heartless sea.
After a time, I was sent a premonition
that we would meet at my reshaping here.
This dark blood makes me swoon.
My child, dear child — why do you grasp the air?
Here in the porch to Erebus, I am scarcely shape.
You might as well attempt to gather up a mist
and put it in a sack. Stop, I say, a moment.
Stop and think of me. Conjure up my form:
the draping of my robe, its embroidery,
my plaited hair, and the colour of my brow.
Remember this: late in the day, my walking
down a stony path towards the sea,
my long shadow bending over sunny rocks —
vestige of shadow in memory —
that’s what I am; that’s what you have to hold.
This dark blood makes me swoon.
How does one die of loss?
The way a stone dissolves in sea,
by granules, by thousands of departures
wave by wave and year by year.
We mothers know departures well —
they are our dread —
a daughter from her home, lovers after love,
babe from womb, child from room, son from Hall,
and husband from his country and familiar lands.
How does one die of grief?
First of all, a slowing of the breath,
such that every dawning spreads
a larger, unfamiliar light; one grows smaller
under its immensity. Eventually, one loses
interest in the daylight altogether.
Then a dry wind surfaces within,
a shrinkage of the bones — one stumbles;
the shoulders sag. One ceases to water
the garden plants, and strangers,
who find you standing on a promontory,
take your arm and kindly lead you home.
One sits at table motionless for hours,
wondering why the freshly broken bread
is difficult to taste. The will disintegrates,
and the self behind the eyes retires —
outwardly, there is less and less to see.
The smallest movement must be argued,
until finally, one simply forgets to breathe.
This dark blood makes me swoon.
Go to your wife, your son — and to your father
who languishes in exile from his home.
He feeds the swine, prunes the olive trees,
and sleeps upon the ground.
Remember, while you are named Odysseus,
I thought to call you Polyaretus and wished for you,
as I still do, a mother’s wish — that you might gain,
not a hero’s fame and battle–plunder to excess,
but love among your people and a common worthiness.
I must return.
                     This dark blood makes me swoon.

Brent MacLaine teaches modern literature, including the Literature of Atlantic Canada, at the University of Prince Edward Island.  In addition to academic articles, he is also the author of three collections of poetry, Wind and Root (2000), These Fields Were Rivers (2004) and Shades of Green (Acorn Press, 2008).  He co-edited Landmarks in 2001 with Hugh MacDonald.  He has also written various academic articles on modern and contemporary fiction.  His next manuscript  (working title:  Athena Becomes a Swallow and Other Poems Based on The Odyssey) is due for publication in October of 2009.