When I first heard the word “homoerotic”
we were learning the Iliad in class,
so naturally I heard “Homer-erotic,”
which, given the number of men
stationed in one place for a decade with not much to do,
made perfect sense to me.

Pleased with this sharp-edged word, I hoisted it
like a javelin, pointed it at my friends,
made jabs at parties hosted by smart people.
“O, that’s entirely Homer-erotic,”
I would say into the profound pauses
I understood to be the requisite awe.

I patiently explained to my girlfriend how
being Homer-erotic was different
than being gay, which was a whole separate deal,
and that this love was the epic love of friends,
the bond beyond beers. This was marrow love,
forearm-clasping love, I’d-play-on-your-team love.

Because theory is no good without practice,
I brought my spear to the bar where Bud Light
camps outside the walls of Miller, where men,
without irony, wear the jerseys and numbers
of other men, just like the girls in high school
who dated and fawned over the football players.

A man among men, I duly sacrificed
hecatombs of peanuts and buffalo wings,
watched giants gaze up at the Olympian
big-screen and seize their neighbor’s hands, “Brother,
our team will not fail this dawn, and if they do,
let the earth yawn and swallow me in shame.”

Muses, who were the manly lords and officers?
Dick, raider-of-refrigerators was there,
and seated next to him was Frank, son of Ronald —
they loved the waitress with her tits that launched
a thousand ships, but they’d been dishonored at home,
where the slaves weren’t as grateful as they should be.

I’m embarrassed to say when I first learned
of my error, of “homoerotic”
as reality, but let’s just say that men
had already packed and made it home from Troy
while I was the last one standing, and not
because I’d won the Homeric spelling bee.

Once it was gone I wanted my word back.
I miss you Agamemnon, dick that you were.
I miss the big cry baby, Achilles,
as well. I miss the Homer-erotic
annunciation of men who offend fickle gods
and mispronounce all that they’ve heard with pride.

Now, I sit as quiet as a bowl in a china shop. 
I beg the gods for an escape goat
because not knowing the score is cutting your nose,
despite your face. Make no mistake —
when you say it right, “homo” makes the men see
red, ill-fated pigment of the imagination.

“Homer-Erotic” also appears in The Ledge.

Chuck Rybak’s first chapbook, “Nickel and Diming My Way Through” won the Quentin R. Howard prize. His second chapbook, “Liketown,” was published by Pudding House Publications. Rybak’s first full-length collection, “Tongue and Groove,” was released by Main Street Rag.