Untitled Odysseus Poem

I don’t know what any of it means
sword arm aching, rebelling from the wrist
illness never quite reaching retching or infarct
never quite reaching the stomach or the heart
only the seat of longing for rest, peace, cease
I can’t debate, I can’t think.
I already spend my nights by the river of dreams,
the miniature, battling, see-through dead
rising through me
I want to go back,
see our oaks whitening with dust from the road.
Is it too hot, July burning like December,
is it bushfire season?
Though I came with Odysseus the last thing I want is to return with him.
He’s the hero of that journey.
God! Watch out for heroes,
their Good to meet you, bro,
their Have a drink, I’m buying
right hand shaking yours, left hand cupping your elbow
plastic smiles, faces like fate or cement
the last thing you’ll see
They don’t give a damn about you
as long as it’s not them sliding into the briny
(not their own skin muscle bone,
their ribcage and laughter sliding down under)
I want to go back.
Breathe the air that simply rises from grass
in the spiral blue of the evening,
hear the sound of the creek if it’s running,
cure my dream-river dreams
            black boats burning to the waterline
            incinerated screaming

Though the gods only know what’s become of home
the years I’ve been gone –
drought and corruption, cruelty
as though home itself were a war
and not a thread of trees in a valley
sun on grass yellow as wisdom
and the sound of cicadas
Heroes are maniacs
heroism is mayhem.
Why you need someone else’s blood
to purify you, justify you, beatify you
is beyond me.
So unreadable in what they permit,
you begin to wonder how the gods’ve been bribed.
Too long in Agamemnon’s camp! Too long away.
I can’t reason.
Hands in soil, cool and black where we made the garden,
a verandah with a shade cloth, a table we could move.
I want to eat at an ordinary table.



If there’s a drought we’ll only have the bore.
We’ll have to sell everything
at a loss, so much loss,
all our reputation for fine sheepskin
After the sales, the wharves and shopfronts,
my father would come and find me at the horse pens
and we’d ride creaking home.
The ox-cart rising through the bleaching grass
– seed clusters like spear-shafts feathered with arrows –
through the gullies and gully winds,
and then our long, low, rounded, sheep-grazed hills
the house a distant lamp
if the night at its height were motionless,
and my mother waiting, to see us
to water, wine and bed.
Years of fire at night along the ridges
jagged and red, a pulsing line of red crystals
halfway up the sky, ready to break and fall
onto the grass
the shed, the pens, the ox,
the frightened, terrified sheep –



Who’s left?
Who’s died?
Who’s making the decisions now?
Who can hold or work a farm
when it’s a daughter, a slip of a second son,
and one old man, hands the shape of arthritis?
How could I breathe there,
extract what I need from air not roped and stenched with death?



How can I breathe here,
extract what I need from air roped and stenched
with the rot of seaweed and flesh and burning blood
and the sounding fires?
The iron cold of the sea.
Slopes of sour grey sand
footprints and tent-holes seeping with salt water
flecked with tinged fragments of shells,
fingernails of the other dead
pink-burgundy shells with stone-white edges
they arrive and arrive and arrive



M. F. McAuliffe, long-time resident of Portland, Oregon, co-founded and co-edits the Portland-based, completely multilingual journal Gobshite Quarterly and material for the Quarterly’s offshoot press, Reprobate/GobQ Books.

Her published books include The Crucifixes and Other Friday Poems, 25 Poems on the Death of Ursula K. Le Guin, and the long and short story titles Seattle and I’m Afraid of Americans.

M. F. recommends the Oregon Food Bank.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 22:03