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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