Sunday, August 20, 2006

191. ODYSSEUS'S SECRET - Stephen Dunn

At first he thought only of home, and Penelope.
But after a few years, like anyone on his own,
he couldn't separate what he'd chosen
from what had chosen him. Calypso, the Lotus-eaters, Circe;
a man could forget where he lived.
He had a gift for getting in and out of trouble,
a prodigious, human gift. To survive Cyclops
and withstand the Sirens' song––
just those words survive, withstand, in his mind became a music
he moved to and lived by.
How could govern, even love, compete?
They belonged to a different part of a man,
the untested part, which never has transcended dread,
or the liar part, which always spoke like a citizen. The larger the man, though,
the more he needed to be reminded
he was a man. Lightning, high winds;
for every excess a punishment.
Penelope was dear to him, full of character and fine in bed.
But by the middle years this other life
had become his life. That was Odysseus's secret,
kept even from himself. When he talked about return
he thought he meant what he said. Twenty years to get home?
A man finds his shipwrecks,
tells himself the necessary stories.
Whatever gods are––our own fearful voices
or intimations from the unseen order
of things, the gods finally released him, cleared the way.
Odysseus boarded that Phaeacian ship, suddenly tired
of the road's dangerous enchantments,
and sailed through storm and wild sea
as if his beloved were all that ever mattered.

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