©1998 A.D. Sullivan
|Nefertiti||Patrick Hammer, Jr.|
|Of the Travail in the Fig Yards of Tashkent|
Very Little is Remembered
|yes, there still are some good ones||Scott C. Holstad|
|Metropolitan Museum of Art||Douglas Baker|
|A Father Image:|
One View of Homer's Odyssey
|Line of Sight||Tom Kellar|
"the beautiful one returns"
she travails from hidden tomb
east of Nile
seeks her horizon on the disk
once firgin capital Amarna
silence ushers herPharaoh Ankhnaton dead
there are no cheers
no royal chariots rush in the plaza
alone in the place of love
the city is dead
the bargemen have returned to Thebes
a sirocco lends her to the falcon
the beautiful one sales into
the underworld of Osiris.
by Patrick Hammer, Jr.
Of the Travail in the Fig Yards of Tashkent
Very Little is Remembered
Furrow your browns and pay some small attention.
As the day drew nearer to its opening, the birds decided to fly by, hungry, sullen birds in good-sized flocks.
School trips were canceled.
Moving ever so slowly, fluttering their wretched wings, the creatures dropped their colored eggs like a hail storm of stink bombs, driving everyone in doors. Then, they zoomed over chimney pots to deliver more abuse down the bricklined tunnels.
The mayor lost his aplomb.
"What strange, cold fingers, damp and icy, grip my heart and press my chest," he said.
Storm clouds. Downpour. The children look out their fogged windows with doleful eyes, their brightness clouded.
Moving ever so slowly.
The town council lost their lunch.
"We must hire someone to clean this up," they said.
Seconds pass. The birds en masse circle over a chasm filled with straight pins. The fair folk have cautiously open their doors. The sheriff lost his wits.
"Damned if I'm gonna let a bunch of birds get the best of me," he said.
The birds were becoming more excited and more unruly. They were geared up for a grazing, sweeping and sorting in a tightly-packed dark cloud, their lengths narrowly escaping their breaths. A mist hung over the chasm, irritating a million pairs of beady, reptilian eyes.
The school marm lost her appeal.
"No one's attracted to hates fill with plumage anymore," the Sheriff said.
The scientist is giving an explanation already in progress ".... originating from a problem of vivid chromosomal defeat. In utero, in vitro, in situ on a volume of 97 million shares. Most active issue: the Gulf of Mexico."
Finally exhausted, one of the firs falls on the straight pines. Shrill cries. Killed by hot blades through a wicker chair made of butter.
Constancy is in danger.
Moving every slowly.
The birds are screaming that it was not supposed to be this way. They would much prefer the sudden sliding touch of the anaconda, listening to the lonely tinny echoes of Baroque brass as it underscored the comforting classicist's view of a satisfying world.
Moving very little.
The children have picked over the bird's remains. In the midst of the flotsam and jetsam, there are sensational selections. The children move with grace. The type of affection you find yourself trying to mimic. Similar to the grace instilled by yawning and the easing of aggression or threat which the act induces.
yes, there still are some good ones
yes, there still are some good ones
i went to the Seal Beach McDonald's
today for an early lunch,
approached the counter and
ordered the usual double cheese,
ketchup mustard only, large fries,
straw shaker, and the girl behind
the register looked at me w/ barely
contained hostility, but began to
write the order, before relaying it
in Spanish to the crew behind her.
knowing it would take quite awhile,
i stepped back and began perusing the
sports page when i noticed an old
street bum shuffling toward the
counter, mumbling madly to himself
and anyone who would care to listen.
shit, i thought, this old coot's
gonna make a damn fool nuisance of
himself and get kicked out (this
particular mickey dees was in a
fairly posh area) and, damn, if
he didn't shuffle on up to the girl
at the register and strain to ask
for a cup of coffee. the girl got
her manager to come over and i
cringed as he approached the old man,
but he said, "hey Eddie, how're ya
doing?" the bum muttered something
in reply & the manager said, "coffee
huh, you know how much that's gonna
costya, dont'cha Eddie?" Eddie nodded
and pulled out two dirty pennies from
his trouser pocket, then slowly handed
them to the mgr. i held my breath,
then watched as the mgr carefully rang
up a 2Ę coffee sale, handed over a cup
of the stuff & said, "see you tomorrow"
as the old man shuffled off.
by Scott C. Holstad
[From his book, Places, (Sterling House, 1995)]
Metropolitan Museum of Art
by Douglas Baker
I stand alone among Greek naked ladies, the curve of their marble breasts teasing me from their pedestals, and I am as hard as they are, my head so full of ideas it is ready to explode.
But I cannot act.
At times like these, I sometimes stare down at my own booted feet, feeling like a country hick, or perhaps one of those outlying families of Greece who came in for the Trojan War to confront Paris's theft.
Can a man declare war over the beauty of a woman?
I could, I would, my heart and anatomy hard enough to clash swords for this precious woman of stone.
I keep thinking people are staring at me as I stand before this one particular statue, thinking what I am thinking and condemning me as pervert for it -- while all the time I know no one stares at all, and that no one cares what I think.
I am no critic. I have no right to judge art, or to declare war over a woman cast into stone.
I am as helpless as she, no more able to act with my two full unbroken arms as she can without hers, flexing fingers that provide neither she nor me with pleasure.
People speak to me, but my mouth is as dry as clay, full of what ifs, if onlys, how come I can't.
Only my eyes move freely, catching glimpses of other people in the crowd, of one particular face in the crowd. I hear the click of her high heals across the marble floor, hear the whisper of her skirt as is whisks by me.
It is not lust, but some deeper mood of desperation I cannot define, as if she could substitute for stone, and bear mine to cure me once and for all of my madness.
"Make love, not war," someone should have told Achilles before he dragged poor Hector's body across the battle field, my body aching as if someone had dragged me.
Then, as if I were a statue coming to life, I move one foot then another to follow the girl, my head struggling to find a plan that I might snatch her away, me suddenly Paris seeking to steal sweet Helen's soul.
She had a silvery, oval face shaped like a fine spoon, shimmering a little under the lights as if she had been sweating. Her lips were pink and pursed and gentle, quivering just a little as they drew closed, quivering apparently over some anticipation of her own I knew nothing about.
I liked to think she knows I am watching and anticipates my touch.
Back home, I would have walked straight up to her, taken her by the arm and said, "Come along, Gal, let's go find some grub."
But here, swaying in the cool air under the stare of such statues, I lose all reckoning, frozen in place by the metropolitan sophistication of a modern day Troy, Trojans in business suits armed with advanced degrees brushing passed me as if I did not exist.
No room for blind poets in their midst, or men like me, stiff as stone statues on the floor of their museum. These Trojans have no room for poetry of any kind, and glare at me as if I should be out on the steps with the rest, just another juggler or street jester.
And perhaps they would be right. I know little of this kind of art, unable to define it in the same way these people can, always believing art more of a feeling, something that strikes me right when I come across it. (I cannot trust my head for more than a few meaningless calculations).
Seeing her brings that twinge in me, creating a confusion of threads I cannot sort out, this thought entwined with that thought, until I have made a mess of things.
I want to touch her, letting my warm fingers swell over her stone cold breast, as if was the sculptor that shaped her in the first place, searching for my own fingerprint upon her. Yet with so much distance between us, I touch only empty air.
From time to time, she looked my way and I scurried back, a shy crab seeking the stony protection of the crowd. I could not trust myself to speak with her or venture too near. All the daring I displayed with women had home was humbled before this woman and in this place.
I could have smiled, but even that seemed presumptuous. I could have offered her a service, but I had no service to give.
"You're just a hick, boy," the voice in the back of my head kept saying, the same voice of gods speaking to those warriors outside Troy, each man filled with vision of Helen, each with lust in his heart, each willing to spend a whole decade of their lives to prove they could get her back.
Then, she moved again, my quivering legs staggering out into the open to follow, only to have her stop so suddenly, as to catch me without protection, me, falling to one side, hitting my hip on the novelty counter as I pretended to look for a post guard, the self portrait of Van Gogh laughing at me like a mirror.
I watched her. She looked at her watch.
Standing, waiting, tapping her foot, glancing so frequently towards the door that I glanced there, too, people coming and going with the regularity of a pulse, none of them meeting her expectations -- until finally, a single figure came through the door, and she smiled and waved and more towards him, he pausing shifting brief case from one hand to the other, then smiling, too, when he saw her, his features full of the same suave urban sense Paris must have seemed to Helen, a sophisticated soul among the savages, talking even before he was close enough for her to hear, spilling out some monologue that drew her into his arms and kept here there, until both turned towards the outer door and made their way out, me, following behind at a distance, me, pausing on the top step to watch them descend, each click of their footsteps on the stone one more blow to my heat. And then, she and he, climbing into a yellow cab and swept away as neatly as in any Greek ship, leaving me alone on the shore, and abandoned, with no will to follow.
This lost child doesn't know these
noontine shoppers, these lunching
businessmen, they are as alien as
soldiers, through her tears their
faces distort like the looking into brass
these strangers could hurt her, her
mouth widens into a scream that fills
her face as she runs back and forth and
she becomes that naked girlTheir voices echo through this shopping center,
in a photograph from Life Magazine.
she is running to cool her burning
flesh with that same open mouth and
are those faces in the background
helping her? Or have they been bombed, too?
follow me down the escalator. I hear
them as I reach the exit doors
they follow me to my car
scream where is our mother?
Who will rescue us?
by David Gerry
A Father Image
One View of Homer's Odyssey
by A.D. Sullivan
When James Joyce paid his amazing tribute to Homer early in the 20th Century, he delved deeply into the relationship between the father and son aspects of the ancient Greek's work, fully appreciating the physical and psychological journeys both Odysseus and Telemachos took in achieving the original works end.
For those unfamiliar with The Odyssey, the story generally is divided into three distinct parts, current events in Ithica, Odysseus' home, the past -- a retelling of what kept Odysseus from getting back to it after the Trojan Wars, and finally Odysseus' revenge on the suitors who have been unwelcome quests in his house for part of the time he was gone.
Odysseus made his first appearance in Homer's earlier masterpiece, the Iliad, as one of the many warriors seeking to win back beautiful Helen after she was kidnapped to Troy. The Iliad talks about the war itself, and mostly about Achilles' rage and his relationship to the gods and fate. The Odyssey picks up somewhat from the end of that and tells the story of what happened to those heroes after the fall of Troy, and though it is a work with many threads, one of the most obvious is the theme of fathers and sons, and their relationship. Throughout the work, tales are told of good sons and bad sons as apparent guide posts to Odysseus's son Telemachos at a moment when he must choose between two courses in his own life. While his father battles external monsters, beasts keeping him from arriving home, Telemachos does battle with equally nasty beasts inside himself, the doubts and ambitions of a young man overshadowed by his father, leaving without news of his father's fate for 20 years while other men seek to take his father's place in his mother's bed.
While Joyce did much to explain the relationship between the two men through his own characters, Steven and Leo, many aspects of the original father and son relationship went unexplored, especially some of the motivations behind Telemachos' actions.
But trying to sort through Telemachos' motivations in The Odyssey is like trying to unravel Penelope's weavings. You just keep coming up with more and more as you go on, finding Odysseus' son nearly as fascinating as the great hero himself, something you would not expect from a casual reading.
Walter James Miller, in his introduction to a Samuel Butler translation of The Odyssey, helped a little in sorting through the treads of what some have called the greatest single story in world literature, when he focused in on Manhood as one of the essential themes.
"What makes a man a person in Homer's eyes was his struggle for recognition," Miller wrote. "He fulfilled himself by striving at the highest level of performance possible for his peculiar talents, earning at least a good name, perhaps also renown or glory."
Miller described Telemachos' condition in the early chapters of The Odyssey as "feeling for the first time the urge to gain a good name."
Indeed, the drive for glory of his own bursts out of the passages of Homer's work like juice from a pomitgranit once the surface of this story is punctured, one of the great threads that seems nearly insignificant in comparison to all else going on with Odysseus.
Andre Michalopoulos, in his book Homer, paints a confused and frustrated Telemachos, one who is driven into action. This compulsion makes up yet another thread in this amazing tapestry of stories, where modern man confronts traditional man, where son seeks to supplant father in an on-going conflict more obviously portrayed by other Greek writers years later. Some people claim all Greek and Roman writing (and thus all Western literature) came out of Homer.
In some ways, these two descriptions of Telemachos seem to miss much in revealing his character and his motivations. These descriptions seem to ignore the instigating whispers of Athena in his ear, or the power of society itself, or the internal struggles of a boy growing into manhood. Nor do they make clear the incredible power of fear over the boy, and how his physical limitation as well as his lack of experience play strong roles in shaping his behavior.
Mixed motivations mark Telemacho's leaving home. He wants glory of his own, not tainted by the shadow of his glorious father. Athena speaks of this when talking with the other gods.
"I shall visit Ithaka to put more courage in the son," she says. "Let him find news of his dear father where he may win his own renown about the world."
Athena seeks to paint new picture of Odysseus in Telemacho's mind, providing a model of inspiration for the son, "clearer now, so that he marveled to himself."
As teacher, Athena leads the boy through the more subtle experiences of the mind, the way she does Odysseus through the physical world, giving the highest praise she can to the boy by comparing him to his father.
"You'll never be fainthearted or a fool, Telemachos, if you have your father's spirit," she tells him. "He finished what he cared to say and what he took in hand he brought to pass ... the son is rare who measures with his father and one in a thousand is a better man, but you will have the sap and wit and prudence -- for you get that from Odysseus -- to give your fair chance of winning through."
While her words of warning are lost on the suitors who seek to marry Pennelope, Odysseus' wife and Telemachos' mother, Athena's advice is not lost on Menelaos, a dear friend of Telemachos.
Menelaos, as part of this father-son thread of the Odyssey, often compares the father with the son, and acknowledges the power of the gods in Telemachos' life.
"My dear child," Melelaos says, "I have not fears for you, no doubt about you conduct or your heat, if, at you age, the gods are your companions."
But Athena's whispers make up only a surface thread that barely hint at more personal motivations, and Telemachos' personal hunger for power, a power by which allows him to accomplish things of which he has dreamed, such as obtaining glory of his own. This hunger is not lost on his mother nor her suitors, nor does he hide it.
"I would happily be king, if Zeus conferred me the prize," Telemachos said at one point.
Miller call Telemachos "indecisive," at this point, as suitors mock him and the servant that raised him treats him like a child. Yet until Athena came to his aid -- giving him a plan for his oversees travel and procuring him a ship -- Telemachos' options were limited. While he could tell off the suitors, he knew and admitted he could not defeat them in combat, suspecting even his father incapable of that. Still, like his father, Telemachos is a thinking man, and a man growing both in physical stature, but more importantly, as a man of calculation.
Even before Athena's arrival, something stirred inside Telemachos, some aspiration that was not created by the gods, but later stoked into flame. He actually took the first staggering steps towards manhood on his own, beginning the move from daydreaming boy to the son who could challenge his own father in stringing the great bow. Over the course of this story, Telemachos concludes several times that he could not find glory of his own or recognition while his great father remained to overshadow him, an attitude which is changed later during his travels, but clearly one of the sharpest motivations early on.
"If he (Odysseus) had died ... I should have all honor as his son. Instead, the whirlwinds got him, and no glory ... I inherit trouble and tears," he said.
His going to sea to find news of his father, might well be seen as a journey to find himself -- since inside his own head he is just as lost in mixed emotions as his father is lost in the whirlwinds and monsters. Telemachos' motivations are hardly pure, and clearly more selfish than would first appear. He is not seeking to save his father, but to find proof of the great man's death so that he can have glory of his own.
What Telemachos discovers is a different kind of glory, one given to him as part of a great heritage, one that does not need to see the death of his father, but celebrates the traits passed down from father to son.
Over and over, Telemachos is compared to his father, seemingly contradictory at first, and yet less and less so as they come together in physical and psychological distance. Telemachos originally bemoans his inability as a warrior to deal with the suitors.
"My home and all I have are being ruined... Expel them, yes, if only I had the power," he said.
But during his travels from Ithaca insert of his father, Telemachos discovers two distinct aspects of his father, the athletic and the intellectual. Although an exemplary athlete and warrior, Odysseus finds his physical nature getting him deeper in trouble, while his powers of thought find ways to save himself. It is this thinking part of Odysseus that Telemachos most resembles, having inherited the powers of his father's speech to persuade Other recognize this aspect of Telemachos even before he does. Helen sees the similarities when she first lays eyes on him. Nestor compared him in similar favorable terms to Odysseus.
"You, too, are tall and well set-up, I see, be brave, you, too, so that men in times to come will speak well of you," Nestor advises the boy.
Not that Telemachos is unaware of the power ground inside of himself. Early on, even before his journal, he began to lay claim to his father's house, using power similar to his father's to gain his ends.
Penelope noticed this in an early argument.
"The lady gazed in wonder and withdrew, her son's clear wisdom echoing in her mind."
It is this growing boldness that startled the suitors when he told them off.
"By now their teeth seemed fixed in their upper lips, Telemachos' bold speaking stunned them so."
Perhaps, the real purpose of his journal over sea was not so much to find news of his father, but to confirm his own power. This might explain the sudden sense of self confidence behind his statement to Melelaos when he begs to return.
"I must return to my own hearth," he said. "I left no one behind as guardian of my property. This going abroad for news of a greater father -- heaven forbid if be my undoing."
He is saying that he has learned enough and that the comparisons made by others of him to his father has taught him that the solution to the suitor problem is inside himself.
This stirring inside of Telemachoes marks his passage from boyhood and bring with it the fate of all heroes: social responsibility. One unmentioned motivation rise out of Telemachos' sudden ability to see --- see as Oedipus saw -- the consequences of his own actions.
When Telemachos declined an invitation to party with the suitors, he showed a distinct change in himself and his awareness.
"I cannot see myself again taking a quiet dinner in this company," he told them. "Isn't it enough that you could strip my house under my very nose when I was young. Now that I know, being grown, what other say, I understand it all, and my heart is full."
Suddenly, what others say and think have become important. The issue of shame appears for the first time in his life.
What is socially acceptable behavior for the son of a king?
Can one new motivation in his life be the shake of his neighbors heads over his participation in destroying his own house? Has he suddenly come to realize that his father's subjects see him as less than his father? Is it proper for him as the son of the king to squander his mother's wealth and his father's reputation? And once aware that his behavior is inappropriate, how can he continue the living the whole gay life, drinking and carousing with the boys in ignorant bliss?
His new mind-set seems to reveal itself in his speech to the assembled suitors.
"My house is being plundered. Is this courtesy? Where is your indignation? Where is your shame? Think of the talk in the islands all around us, and fear the wrath of the gods."
In this, he may just as well be talking about himself and how he is perceived.
Both Miller and Michaelopoulos say that one of the people presented as a model to Telemachoes is that of Orestes, son of Agamemnon.
Agamemnon led the united armies against Troy in the Iliad, but failed to honor the gods properly when seeking to return home. His wife, who had waited ten years, had grown impatient and had taken on a lover named Aigisthos. Both plotted to kill the great general when he set foot back on his home soil, rolling out a red carpet that eventually led to his death.
During his travels, Telemachos hears the sad tale of how Aigisthos plotted with Agamemnon's wife to slaughter the great man, and how Agamemnon's son, Orestes took revenge, honoring his father's memory by slaughtering the wife and lover. This act is the source of great admiration and great glory in the eyes of the goddess Athena and in the hearts of others to whom Telemachos has gone to get news of his own father.
It is a lesson Telemachos obviously takes to heart, with his own behavior seemingly inappropriate in comparison. Athena pressed the point.
"You are a child no longer," she tells Telemachos at one point. "Have you heard what glory young Orestes won when he cut down that two-faced, Agigisthos, for killing his illustrious father?"
But Telemachos struggles against another powerful urge in Homer's poem in dealing with his mother. While Orestes could justifiably turn against his mother, Agamemnon's wife, Telemachos has no such justification. Penelope has been more loyal to Odysseus than Telemachos has, weaving a great tapestry during the day (telling the suitors she will marry one of them when the weaving is done) then unweaving it again at night so as to stall for time with the hopes of her husband's return.
In the tale of Orestes is a warning, and increased pressure on Telemachos about the curses of wronged women and offended gods. But Homer here has weaved in yet another theme that will dominate the attention of later Greeks: the image and power of his mother.
Telemachos says again and again how he lacks the physical strength to unseat the suitors who seek to claim his inheritance, a crowd with whom he himself had associated until some other thought came into his head, like the voice of a god, some other social taboo he had not been aware of previously. In many ways, Telemachos himself acted out the part of yet one more suitor vying for his own mother's hand. Perhaps this thought so offended him that he suddenly struck out against his mother, and struggled with the idea of unseating her.
This becomes very tenuous ground because we have slipped down into the unstated psychology of the son, to explain some of inner struggle he had when dealing with Penelope, and why he would need to be rid of her if he was king. Yet even if we step back and look at it instead as a social situation, Telemachos is caught in a bind, seeing that his own family strife and his own desire for power and glory as damaging to his manhood and his nation as those he has heard about with other sons of great men.
"Can I banish her against her will, the mother who bore me and took care of me?" Telemachos asks himself. "My father is either dead or far away, but dearly should I pay for this at Ikario's hands if every I sent her back. The powers of darkness would requite it, too, my mother's parting curse would call hell's furies."
Does he dare being the inter-family feuds that led Agamemnon's family into ruin? How does a child do battle with his or her own parents? Surely, his journey over sea is much an escape from his mother (and the possible temptations of unseating her) as it is a search for his father's fate."
When Telemachos finally does return, it is magnificence. He finds his father, but only after he has discovered himself. He is his own man, despite his re-union with his father. This is proven later when he confront his mother in public over the use of Odysseus' bow.
"Mother, as to the bow and who may handle it or not handle it, no man here has more authority than I do," he tells her.
This Telemachos says knowing perfectly well that Odysseus himself is present. It is part of the proof of his self-assertion, echoed by his ability to string that bow. He does not string it without effort, nor fill the powerful show of the man without self doubt, and he fails at the physical effort three times. But "a fourth try, and he had it all but strung, when a stiffening in Odysseus made him check."
This is perhaps Telemachos' greatest triumph, checking his own ambition, learning that he does not have to find his father dead or kill his spirit in order to have glory of his own. Perhaps the inner knowledge of his own power is enough.
As with his father, Odysseus, Telemachos struggles against internal and external forces, of ambition that might have seated him in his father's place, of vanishing wealth, of gods who whisper lessons in his hears, of social pressures, and moral ethics, and rules of order.
In the beginning, Telemachos seemed starkly different from his father, lacking the physical prowess of Odysseus. But in the end, he proved his father's equal, stringing a bow that no man but Odysseus could.
"He is gentle and would be ashamed to clamor for attention before your face," Pelsistratos said of Telemachos.
Odysseus, himself, was called a gentle ruler.
Perhaps behind the masks of both men, these heroes struggle with identity and ambition, both managing to check urges in themselves that might have led them to doom. In a way, Telemachos weaves through the various internal temptations that Odysseus did external monsters (which as one of my professors once pointed out, are perhaps metaphorical for the internal monsters as well.)
Line of Sight
maybe the angel watching over me
strikes a match along the corner of my eye
the way them TV outlaws use their cowboy boots
whenever they need to light up a smoke
or maybe the skittish ghost of a firefly
tries to engage me in blind manís mystic bluff
I turn to look--too late--I miss it
left to ponder the validity of the hidden message
it happens all the time beyond the borders
micro sunspot surfing the line of sight
Marlboro angel in a nicotine fit
fires up when God looks the other way
by Tom Kellar
Copyright ©1998 A.D. Sullivan
All work is by A.D. Sullivan except where otherwise indicated.
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