|Jul/Aug 2008 Poetry Special Feature|
The Other Odyssey
Never trust a poet. Homer didn't tell the half of it—
those stories make good copy, but they're all lies.
Nobody could spend that long trying to get home.
Calypso never lived among wild celery and violet
as the blind man told it. She kept a rat-trap pub
by Dublin docks. Old sailors should know better
than trying to impress a girl with talk of plates of gold,
strings of pearls and agate brooches. Trojan treasure
still turns up on Antiques Roadshow. Seven years?
Seven hours, I heard—more than enough.
Lotus? A brand of cigarette tobacco. They got a taste
for it in Hamburg, with Jamaica rum and snuff.
It's true there was a Whirlpool, that bar in Antwerp
where he took the locals on at darts. Story goes he missed
the target, speared the left eye of the landlord's son.
They heard the sirens that night, no mistake.
What took so long? He got a council house in Liverpool,
got used to central heating, water from a cistern in the roof.
As for his men, believe me, nobody turned those sailors into swine.
Ask any laundry maid in Glasgow—they were pigs to start with.
St. Margaret's Bay, August 2007
By observation—attentive, if drowsing—
a prey of instants might be stalked and trapped,
and even the strictures of technique, its limitations,
tantalize with the teasing promise of success.
Eyes closed, snare the sea as a wet scrape of stones,
a coalescence of shaken rattle and swirling cistern.
Open, and catch the ceaseless shift of colour—cornflower blue,
mud grey, a series of greens: lichen, celery, lemongrass—
and of form—the glitter of lost fortunes,
the ripple of layers in a polished block of agate.
For all the stillness, all this solitude,
there's constant movement. Something new's contrived,
a fresh cut every time from the raw material,
an experience or construct with each disrupting incident.
Here's one: a seabird sights its target, drops
like a falling javelin. One more for the collection.
Or these: voices fix a yellow sail tacking east to west;
café scents are sun bleach on white cliffs, sudden chill
is a foot in the water. All stalked and trapped, to be pinned
behind glass and kept, with care, for future reference.