“Telemachus” by Elisabeth Vodola


Kill the fatted calf
For the prodigal's return,
His homecoming delayed
So that every Greek could learn
Of his great feats.

Thank the gods we just survived.
So many his recklessness
Plunged to nameless deaths,
As, against all caution and advice,
Athena's monkey strung out his far-flung stunts,
Ennui the only enemy he never tried to slay.

And meanwhile, here in Ithaca, my mother
(Open to every insult greed and lust contrive),
Has raised me from my infancy alone.
My mother, whom gray-souled Athena
Slandered to my very face.
How I wish that then and there I'd loosed the rage
That volleyed through my brain,
Use me as she might.

My mother does not follow Folly's footsteps.
Long have I stood by her loom as she wove and stitched
Depictions of our happy life:
Our rooms, our sheep and goats, my toys,
The hills and trees and birds that grace our days:
These she drew in threads sweetened by her breath
On the window's soft breeze.
At her side I learned the sea's infinity,
And to search in myself for words to praise its colors.

Not for me, a foreign hero's stinking shield,
Putrid with sweat and gore.
He worked his work, the master strategist:
Chop til you drop, destroy Troy, create Rome,
Sail--ten years--home.

Listen how each story finds its close:
In one, the grieving father Achilles lets
Bury his slain son in regal state.
But in our tale, though now deciding peace,
The crimson-fingered goddess has Eupeithes killed:
Three generations--my rabid self--pummel him in turn.


He spoke too much truth: his rapier tongue
Impaled that maggot's maw, my father's selfish soul.
Though Old Endurance put much the same
Into a fictive mouth: "Carnage suited me."
And earlier, in rage to Agamemnon:
For us, life is war and war is life.
Well, he worked his work, and I will see to mine.
Enough the world will ever after know the sins
Of those who sailed to Troy on smoke-filled winds.