Tuesday, April 24, 2007

393. Telemachus - William Dickey


You are grown up, surely it is time for you
to set off and look for your father, who is missing.
You have had photographs, but they were taken
by the family, mostly in black-and-white.
Those who knew him, women especially,
say: "He was better looking.
You would have had to see him yourself."
They flutter their fans.
Resentfully, they say:
"There is nothing here that does him justice."

You are over six foot yourself, and well set-up.
Nothing has been lacking in your education.
But it is not for you they languish and decline
in their silken reveries, it is not for you
that their eyes soften, mouths tickle with remembrance.
They think of someone they are jealous of in time.

Up to now, you have hardly been in time.
For twenty years, the sea has been a bowl,
still, permanent, in which the island sat.
The ladies were so many courtesy aunts,
the suitors people who for her own amusement
your mother entertains. They can be woven
into her habitual account of day upon day:
those webs in which you are peripheral, or missing.

Without announcement, you will find yourself
a small boat, launched into an actual Ocean.
If you look for hands, there will be only two.
If you think, you are the mirror of your thinking.
Your skin burns, your hair bleaches from the salt.
Any sail you put up has your own name marked upon it.
In the wake you leave, the waves rehearse
and forget you.

The Ocean is empty, but there are always
landfalls. Arriving at evening, no water left,
sailing by a difficult strait into the harbor,
you will find, always, your father has been there before you.
In one village they will tell you that they ate him,
but they are not convincing, their eyes shift.
In another port
you will find his image in a mud phallic god.
Always the ladies,
holding up the bronze mirror, rouging their nipples,
will say of him: "How could I not remember?"
Out of remembering, they will take you to their beds
where he has been before you.
It is hard to imagine a place he has not been.


You must sail into another Ocean, outside
the possible world: a frozen
incumbrance of a place, ice monuments
breaking and re-forming, the song of the tall ice.
If there are inhabitants, they do not speak
any of the supple tongues you have picked up, voyaging.
They neither remember you nor remember him.
They sing into your mind: "He is not here"
Images flicker and dance in the inhuman sky:
it might be your father, but it is only image.
You have arrived beyond the end of the world.
You have yourself, otherwise there is nothing here.

Even into these waters, Summer comes.
A short slackening of the ice
out of which your boat goes free, unguided.
You are interior to the wave, you are yourself.
Being is not a comfort, but an instruction.
As you move north, you civilize
the islands: these are people who could be men.
They incline to you, recognizing the change
in your face. They offer their daughters to you,
none of whom has lain with a man. They cry: "Change!"
What they see, looking at you, effects it.

Months, perhaps years later, after meeting
with easy indifference women with the feet of birds,
women with dogs barking from their bellies, you return
to the place you set out from, a place
difficult to remember.

Old women come down to the beach. Their fans have rotted.
suitors come down, but they have now no swords.
Your mother comes. She does not know what to say
after all this time. Her eyes have blurred
with the years, even in that place of long-woven calm.
She finds you hard to recognize. "Welcome, Son?"
she says with uncertainty. "Welcome, Husband?"

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