Two Epilogues

1. AFTER ILIUM

 

We’d pass each watch by likening the fires

in the camps beyond to stars on water,

tossed coins, harness buckles on dark horses.

They could’ve been the flashes in my head

when I went down beneath that final blow.

 

Late enough, those campfires nothing but smoke,

we could almost count the dreaming Greeks

by moonlight burning near them on their shields

and spear-points, breastplates, helmets—

what morning sun would kindle to a blaze of battle.

 

I’d been down here a while before I knew

for certain how those lights resembled most

our common fate, the moon-glints all those nights

like what I see across the river now

in the eyes of all the just-arrived.

 

 

2. AXE-HEADS

 

…………Who sends an arrow through iron axe-helve sockets,

…………twelve in line?

……………………………………………………….—Odyssey, Book XXI

 

In the shed he found the crate of blades,

wedged heads of axes, each empty at the socket

where its handle fastened once, tight as a squint.

 

Spilled out, they winked in new light and clattered

to be of use again, to slough off rust and sharpen

on each other, heavy with tales of flight:

 

how one came loose on the downswing and killed a calf

like some mallet between the eyes; another shot

from where it struck a cross-grain hard as rock.

 

But this would be different work, a dozen of them

in a row, fixed shoulder-high along the trench

that opened like a grave for those who’d tried

 

the bow. When that beggar strung it, aimed, then sent

an arrow like a threaded needle through each axe-blade,

who didn’t know it was Odysseus,

 

his mind’s eye on the head of every suitor?

Copyright © 2013 James Scruton.

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