Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Opposite of Chaos

It began with a student's observation as we discussed The Odyssey: "If Calypso has granted Odysseus immortality, then is Penelope getting older than him all those years he's on Calypso's island?"

It's moments like that when I wish I weren't standing in front of them, but rather sitting amongst them, silently pondering the idea that was just introduced. My brain immediately began to hurt as the logic of that student's question revealed itself. I was just looking through some notes on a poetry lecture given by William Seaton last year, in which he said "The opposite of chaos is complexity." The complexity of The Odyssey, hinted at in that question about time, wowed me this semester as I taught it to this avid group.

Odysseus is his own bard as he tells his story (with no living witnesses, no one to dispute his memory or his version of events—convenient, yes?). Disguise after disguise (with help from Athena); he goes from being no man to being many. Ageless for a spell, yet twenty years older. A visit with the dead provides him with knowledge of things that happened in his absence and because of his absence—not quite prophecy, but a prediction of a constantly-shifting present.

A journey, so much of which was standing still, going backward, changing almost every mortal place in which he set foot. Nothing is simple.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Circe (Odyssey part 6)

The worst of them, swine. The best, swineherds. That scapegoating species, man. Blame me, blame me; I only hold up the mirror. Truth serum (a little wine). They have seen it themselves, in themselves and in others. But it’s what I’m best at, showing them what they already know. Wine, swine. Wallowers in self-pity, delusion. Put a pretty name on it, then; call it desire, if that makes it seem noble. You are your own lost cause. You could choose to avoid this island, but no.

[do you know gentle]
one leaf at a time
these last days

The Trouble with Immortality (Odyssey part 5)

What does one do for eternity? One grows bored with ambrosia, one’s own powers, getting everything and everyone one wants. All desires fulfilled means no desire can be fulfilled. So every immortal adopts a petty project. Turning sailors to swine. Helping one single traveler find his way home. Tormenting that traveler. And tens, hundreds, thousands of mortals die as a consequence, but that’s the way it is with mortals, always needing to prove to themselves that they are mortal. Each other’s image: petty, swinish, noble, lost, searching for that desire true enough to be truly worth all one’s time.

October night
the stars come down to join
the geese in the pond

Friday, October 13, 2017

Odyssey part 4

Each memory is shaped by the moment of its recollection. It was not a man; it was a monster. The monster was huge. Huge, with one eye. Huge, one-eyed, ravenous for human flesh. Who is there to contradict him? He terrifies himself with the telling of it, but he gets to add all the clever things he now believes he did. This is the past, after all. A ghost, a shade. A first draft.

just a footnote now
the translator explains
your cleverest trick

Odyssey, part 3 (Penelope)


Cured myself of that sickness, memory. A different song each evening. A man strong and kind, the man I would happily have married had war not taken him away. Or, perhaps we do wed; a few brief months together. A loom on which to weave a day. Unweave it. Start anew. When I say he isn’t dead, I mean he never did exist. Unplait every strand. Knit a yard of fiction. Fabricate my story. Unpiece desire. I did not marry. I married no man.





Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why We Read the Odyssey, part 2

And then another island, this one inhabited by a kind, generous king who shrugs at dire prophecies. What is a prophecy, after all, but a prediction of the present: you will help or hurt someone, you will suffer for it, you will find yourself alone. While we have you here, Odysseus, tell us your story, spread your fame. You alone remain; the telling of your story is the one thing you control. Your words will tumble from the lips of bards for centuries to come. She was right, that goddess: you will be immortal.

even the moon
must rest —
the liar at dawn

Friday, October 6, 2017

Why We Read The Odyssey...

Storytelling and time — where there is story, time is insignificant. Past, future, an eternal now. Memory, prophecy, all one. The bard takes us to an island where a goddess has granted a man immortality, but the man grieves. His mind goes elsewhere, back and forth through the years that are no longer his. Who among us would give up all we have to live forever, remembering what we lost? But thanks to the bard, we are willing captives on this island. We ache to hear how the story will end. We wish it never would.