If you think Odysseus too strong and brave to cry,
that the god-loved, god-protected hero
when he returned to Ithaka disguised,
intent to check up on his wife
and candidly apprize the condition of his kingdom,
steeled himself resolutely against surprise
and came into his land cold-hearted, clear-eyed,
ready for revenge--then you read Homer as I did,
too fast, knowing you'd be tested for plot
and major happenings, skimming forward to the massacre,
the shambles engineered with Telemakhos
by turning beggar and taking up the challenge of the bow.
Reading this way you probably missed the tear
Odysseus shed for his decrepit dog, Argos,
who's nothing but a bag of bones asleep atop
a refuse pile outside the palace gates. The dog is not
a god in earthly clothes, but in its own disguise
of death and destitution is more like Ithaka itself.
And if you returned home after twenty years
you might weep for the hunting dog
you long ago abandoned, rising from the garbage
of its bed, its instinct of recognition still intact,
enough will to wag its tail, lift its head, but little more.
Years ago you had the chance to read that page more closely
but instead you raced ahead, like Odysseus, cocksure
with your plan. Now the past is what you study,
where guile and speed give over to grief so you might stop,
and desiring to weep, weep more deeply.
PAX GEOLOGICA Last night the world's rifts, the ridges that lie under the oceans, entered my dream, seams and wounds of creation that spread and subduct, whose monumental movement makes mountains, erupts volcanoes, and sets continents adrift. In that peaceful destruction the possessions of our house lay scattered on the floor like a collection of basalt, glassine, brittle from cooling, shaped like pillows and sheets and columns from the temple of the world's beginnings. But out beyond the talus walls, over the caldera's edge, the earth's manufacture of abyss slipped by slowly. That was the night's upwelling, and in it the sheer transparent creatures coalesced, rafts of stellar luminescence--red, blue, and green-- deep, beyond reach, but in the world. 2212 WEST FLOWER STREET When I think of the man who lived in the house behind ours and how he killed his wife and then went into his own back yard, a few short feet from my bedroom window, and put the blue-black barrel of his 30.06 inside his mouth and pulled the trigger, I do not think about how much of the barrel he had to swallow before his fingers reached the trigger, nor the bullet that passed out the back of his neck, nor the wild orbit of blood that followed his crazy dance before he collapsed in a clatter over the trash cans, which woke me. Instead I think of how quickly his neighbors restored his humanity, remembering his passion for stars which brought him into his yard on clear nights, with a telescope and tripod, or the way he stood in the alley in his rubber boots and emptied the red slurry from his rock tumblers before he washed the glassy chunks of agate and petrified wood. And we remembered, too, the goose-neck lamp on the kitchen table that burned after dinner and how he worked in its bright circle to fashion flies and lures. The hook held firmly in a jeweler's vise, while he wound the nylon thread around the haft and feathers. And bending closer to the light, he concentrated on tying the knots, pulling them tight against the coiled threads. And bending closer still, turning his head slightly toward the window, his eyes lost in the dark yard, he took the thread ends in his teeth and chewed them free. Perhaps he saw us standing on the sidewalk watching him, perhaps he didn't. He was a man so much involved with what he did, and what he did was so much of his loneliness, our presence didn't matter. No one's did. So careful and precise were all his passions, he must have felt the hook with its tiny barbs against his lip, sharp and trigger-shaped. It must have been a common danger for him-- the wet clear membrane of his mouth threatened by the flies and lures, the beautiful enticements he made with his own hands and the small loose thread ends which clung to the roof of his mouth and which he tried to spit out like an annoyance that would choke him. THE CAVE I think of Plato and the limited technology of his cave, the primitive projection incapable of fast forward or reverse, stop action or slo mo and the instant replay that would have allowed him to verify, once and for all, Justice or the Good, such as the way my family did, hour upon hour, in the dark, watching films of my sister diving, going over her failures and successes like a school of philosophers, arguing fiercely, pulling her up from the depths of the blue water, feet first, her splash blooming around her hips, then dying out into a calm flat sheet as her fingertips appeared. Sometimes we kept her suspended in her mimesis of gainer and twist until the projector's lamp burned blue with smoke and the smell of acetate filled the room. Always from the shabby armchairs of our dialectic we corrected the imperfect attitude of her toes, the tuck of her chin, took her back to the awkward approach or weak hurdle and everywhere restored the half-promise of her form, so that each abstract gesture performed in an instant of falling revealed that fond liaison of time and movement, the moment held in the air, the illusion of something whole, something true. And though what we saw on the screen would never change, never submit to our arguments, we believed we might see it more clearly and understand that what we judged was a result of poor light or the apparent size of things or the change an element evokes, such as when we allowed her to reenter the water and all at once her body skewed with refraction, an effect we could not save her from, though we hauled her up again and again. Michael Collier has been the director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference for five years
and has taught English at the University of Maryland, College Park, for fifteen years.
His books of poetry are The Ledge (2000), The Neighbor (1995), The Folded Heart (1989),
and The Clasp and Other Poems (1986). Collier is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship,
NEA fellowships, and the Discovery/The Nation award, among other honors.