On the end of the Iliad, by Rowan Ricardo Phillips

 They brandished their births like spears.
 Being there wasn’t enough. Their names
 Needed their fathers and their cities
 And their spears and the red air of Ilium.
  
 There’s Apisaon lying on his liver
 As it curdles and leaks out rib-mangled
 From his wound like a clicking tongue
 In froth, mind-deep in its porn.
  
 A gray scholar near the end of his talk
 Pauses, turns hazel in the maze of his thoughts,
 And as he gazes out the window asks,
 Why would the father at the end of the Iliad
  
 Peer into Achilles’ tent and, through the bloodgold fire
 And smoke-slow seafog, pismire and simply stare
 At his son’s stupendous butcher?
 He waits for an answer from the weather.
  
 He kneels before the canceling hands of Achilles
 That did what they do to the dead of his son
 Because they could; and he kisses them.
 The father is our first noble disaster.
  
 He knows his role. He knows he’ll beg. 
 (Though not for the life: the life’s already gristle.)
 He’ll beg for the body.
 He’ll beg like a pagan for the body.
  
 Even those who survive Achilles don’t.
 Priam returned, finally, to Troy’s dented doors
 And with every step he took
 toward the parting gold ruin, 
  
 Hollowed-out 
 Hector
 bucked up and
 down on his back.
  
 Even iridescent Helen, a trail
 Of billowing silks, poured herself
 From her paramour’s arms
 And descended with the rest to see

 The sieged city surging to see its broken
 Breaker of horses. Half shout: “Hope!”
 Half bray: “Brave patriot’s sacrifice!”
 But Priam can’t bear to look at them.
  
 He only looks back dimly at the door. 

Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. “On the End of The Iliad” from HEAVEN: POEMS by Rowan Ricardo Phillips. Copyright © 2015 by Rowan Ricardo Phillips.

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Sherd of an African Red Slip Ware pottery lanx (large rectangular dish); Priam begging Achilles for the body of Hector. From El Jem, Tunisia. 350-430 CE. Metropolitan Museum of Art 2002,1029.22.



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