Author: Chuck Rybak

Pity did not draw us to her, did not call us to soothe the pale creature. It was the hazel tree. Fresh tree. Tear-grown tree. Born from great loss. Mother loss. The fruit stunned. Its strange taste unvoiced us on the branches. Hardship salt. Grief salt. We’d never gorged ourselves on strife so seasoned. Grateful, we picked her lentils from the ashes. From her cinderbed. We reaped two more bowls in the stroke of a breeze and cared not that she cried. She scrubbed and bled and wailed while her straw sisters laughed from the stairs. While her mock mother stood stern. More tears. More fruit. More hazelnut that bettered hazelnut. Yet, this creature compelled us to honor her, to garnish her with dresses. Threads culled from silver catkins. Gold catkins. Living nest. As we strung her into song we saddened with the loss of tears, the return to familiar fruit. But like the hazel tree, a miracle sprang from our gloom. The hazel tree, whose fruit grows on a fresh branch, away from the fertilized flower, taught us to look outward. We found new fare. Envy plump. Ambition wet. Jealousy’s veined tang. We ate the eyeballs. Ripe. One from each sister. A left. A right. Bottomless taste. Spiced with greed. We told none of our kind, returned, and took the remaining eye from each sister. A right. A left. We flew to our maiden’s shoulders for rest. We thanked her for stories that end well.

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.

When we plucked the table from the curbside trash,
one you eyed and imagined
in the corner of a sun-lit room, you asked,
Will you carry this? I can’t
deny that soon my neck burned and thin arms shook,
that I counted the steps of labor and longed
for the level of your landing.

Wedged in the doorframe,
the wide, round top too perfect
for finessing angles. We paused,
weighed leaving it for the night
in the hall, as if we’d dream
an elegant plan to turn it through,
a pajama callisthenic
between breakfast and the Sunday paper.
The thought of its wholeness left outside
troubled me, proof of failed hospitality
and checked intention – better to live
in pieces, with the tools in our hands.

I passed the screws to you, the single legs,
the table’s weight transferring between us.
You looked beyond my shoulder
as I rolled the tabletop through the door,
searching for an ex-husband who might hide
in the way I stand, turn a phrase, or pour coffee.
The past is everyone’s gorgon: the head of snakes
turning us to stone, the hiss that lines our lives
with statues. I looked back as well,

hoping I hadn’t brought him there,
that we wouldn’t petrify and hold
the world of another above our heads.
The ruined table spread across
the warm, hardwood floor. Let’s not wait.
Let’s piece it together, starting now.

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.