Even Homer Nods, by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

You can be a mother who knows a god,
And you can ask him for magic armor,
A shield the width of Saturn’s widest rings,
Some helmet in the new or ancient style,
Fill your arms with defenses for your child,
Take the peacock feather you’ve been offered
And plant it in that helmet’s crown, or keep it
For yourself to use as a pen, note this
Was the only option you were offered,
Stylist or witness, witness with stylus,
So that you’d circle down the drain with death,
Mourning in either silence or sound bites,
Surrounded by silence and sound bites, life
Like this having been polished to shine
In the normal ways that things shine these days,
A dull lull, the type of insufficient glare
We used to call out on sight as useless
Glow but now, in new darkness, feel a need
For, a consolation of presence,
As when my mother passed me the soft shield,
The breastplate like rice paper, the helmet
Bright as faux gold can be, we already
Knew that this was part of the old cycle,
That I would die soon, without a weapon,
And she’d live on, and we’d do this again
And again and again, without ever
Knowing that we were the weapon ourselves,
Stronger than steel, story, and hydrogen,
Here in America, where we wonder,
Still, after everything that’s happened, why
Anyone bothers to read the classics.

“Even Homer Nods” from LIVING WEAPON by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Copyright © 2020 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Achilles given his armor by Thetis
The arming of Achilles. The hand of Thetis, holding a shield by a strap, is seen on the right. A fragment of neck-amphora, 575–550 BCE. Painted in Athens, excavated in Sanctuary of Apollo at Naukratis (Egypt). The British Museum.