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Telemachus on the Waterfront

ISSUE:  Winter 1999

For Peter Gizzi

I listened to the utterance of an owl, I took
my counsel there, and waited as I was told.
The liquid intervals from Troy to Ithaca
made me ten years a man, twice that: Penelope

upstairs unraveling her story, while I wrote mine
in sand to watch it wash away, the mansion
mine to share with suitors who courted me
with new swords, songs, and kisses in the atrium

while the serving girls stirred in their jealous
sleep, I missed Antinoiis most
of those men. It’s not right that the father
should replace the son (the sun, I almost

said, my little light and guttering), all other
and whispered undo, first of all in every
cautionary tale. Orestes, I wish you
well, so deep you drown in it. A bath’s as good

a place as anywhere to die. My father singing
his way across the sea, about himself, king everywhere
but here, but king of that too: let his gods
love him if they must, but let me out. Out hunting

the horizon for the smudge of white
that means a sail (my shadow, my devotion, severed
gull’s wing in the sand), I saw the light distill itself
to flasks the ocean blew, and sealed with wax,

and threw away: their glass broke onshore.
All day the sun repeats its habitual failure
to stay in place, like everyone I know.
For his sake I sailed into perfection and stood

still, boy now and always, crippled kouros.
The other son knew better than to turn to stone
for love, killed the lord of masters, because to be half
god is better than to be all man, or half

the son of one, first moon, last moon, two halves
that don’t add up, but miss each other anyway
throughout the night. I wish I had
a fate.(Telegonus my south, line

of flight, rupture in the what must be
told again. My mother makes an art form
of abandonment; your mother could make me a bird
brooding on the equinox, or his bow. The Ionian

Sea scrolls in and takes its leave again: he takes
his leave, then takes it back, my legion, lordly sire,
available for hire to any god. Damn the owls
that kill the mice.) Insert my name here, or say

“He stayed past midnight searching for the scales
to weigh the myth itself against the merely
local, mere life, his.” The sky’s no longer an analogy,
nor can I draw the limbs of waiting heroes from the night:

the father makes stars fade, or shoots his poisoned arrows
through their light to pin the moon in place
and make it pine for him: a figure
to reflect upon. Now something quivers past

the shunt horizon, quickens there: Eden’s echo
or white flag. I didn’t want him to come home.


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