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Odysseus Adrift

“Son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, resourceful Odysseus,
let no need for a guide on your ship trouble you; only
set your mast pole and spread the white sails upon it,
and sit still, and let the blast of the North Wind carry you.”

Odyssey 10, 504-507


The boards I cut and planed and joined together
press into my back.
The white sail hangs and shudders in the dark—
as when a gallows body,
touched by moonlight witcheries of wind
is seen to stir again,
wheezes, and faintly gleams.

My eye drifts toward the manless rudder,
leaning, righting itself … once more to lean
into the all-enravelling eddies
of Ocean’s endless stream.
Above, the stars shift left and right
to whispered musics of the untuned breeze;
they make the movements of a Maenad chorus—
fitfully dancing, half dancing fitfully still—
but the god is no longer in them.

In dreams the goddess hovers over me,
and whispers in my ear,
laughing lightly, mocking me,
“Where now, O man of devices?
Navigator, mind like Zeus?”
For I am craftless now,
a useless burden on the well made wood.
All round me, Ocean flows into itself,
and darkness melts into darkness.
The images of men I never missed
return and drift around me, catch my eye.
Should I be sorry, angry, sad for them?
I do not know what they can want from me,
or I can owe to them.
Neither do they.
Our glances disengage, and they flit by.

That laughing voice again,
“Where now, O man of devices?”

When every destination has been won,
or lost, is there still somewhere
you can only get to by not trying?
A land whose absence warps the squares of maps,
and turns the compass dizzy with distraction?

I dream that someone, something waits for me
in the immortal night. My hairs stand up.
Is it the beast that always stalks
the fringes of my vision, and my dreams,
waiting for its cue to rip me up?
Is it Achilles, smiling grimly, sadly—
I have seen him smile and pause like that—
before he moves to take another’s life?
I do not know.

I do not know what would be right,
if right and wrong come into it at all.
I dream of every end but, more and more,
one dream keeps on returning:
I seem about to enter
the welcome home of stranger-arms,
a spousal, unforeknowable embrace
of one delaying long, and long awaited.


By Adam Cooper

Original bio from the Spring 2015 edition:
Adam Cooper might look like a homeless teenaged runaway, but he is actually a slightly respected (mostly by naive undergraduates) teacher of something at a university somewhere. And he talks too much.

This poem first ran in the Spring 2015 edition of Grub Street Grackle. It appears here online for the first time.

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