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,
home
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.

 

ii

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
lost.
 
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 –

 

iii

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?

 

iv

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 was born and educated in South Australia and Victoria.

Her fiction and poems have appeared in The Clarion Awards, Overland, Australian Short Stories, Prairie Schooner, Poezija (Zagreb), The Writing Disorder, Unlikely Stories Mark V, and other print and online venues.

Co-author of the poetry collection Fighting Monsters and of the limited edition artist’s book, Golems Waiting Redux, she is author of The Crucifixes and Other Friday Poems, the novella Seattle, the story cycle I’m Afraid of Americans and the chapbook 25 Poems On The Death Of Ursula K. Le Guin. A long-time resident of Portland, Oregon, she co-founded and co-edits at the Portland-based, completely multilingual journal Gobshite Quarterly and at its offshoot press, Reprobate/GobQ Books.

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