The great hall below
at this point rang with a tremendous sneeze—
I’m sitting in a carrel in
an archipelago of carrels
in Hoffman Memorial Library
reading The Odyssey
when a sudden violent sneeze
at the end of book seventeen
possesses me. I feel it take hold
in my nose and alveoli
like an urge to prophesy
to all of Hoffman Memorial Library,
or like the oral tradition itself
itching to tell the story
before it all got written down.
The son of Odysseus
sneezed. And the sneeze traveled
like a thing with locomotion
or bellying sail,
touching down consecutively
on other carrels in the library,
each with a population
of one bowed head over a book
raising itself up to sneeze
the sneeze of Telemachos.
At times contagious over time,
at times auspicious as a favorable wind,
the body’s way of removing
an irritation from the palace of the nose
has not changed much since Homer.
Sometimes you want to sneeze, but can’t.
And no one can sneeze for you.
The father cannot sneeze for the son
nor the son for the father.
You can try looking up into the sunlight,
unless of course you’re stuck in a library—
then you can only
hold your breath and turn the page:
And laughter seized Penelope.
“May death relieve us, clean as that,
of all the suitors.”
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