Author: Doug Ramspeck

I have carried it with me through the winter.
February evening carving wind-sweep
      across sprawling drifts of snow.
Late light ebbing pale and barren on the ice.
My shovel scraping at the driveway—
when all at once
                                                                        moans of sirens
lifted in the distance.  When all at once I imagined Sibyl
speaking to Aeneas: Between there lies a forest,
and darkly winds the river Cocytus round the place.
Surely the forlorn dead had come to
   wail.
Surely the flapping
    wings of a Great Darkness
were whipping winter air into shrieking, frozen frenzy.
And then, without warning, it was done.  The sky went still.
Only my shovel scraped.  Snow
                                                                                    gathered
in white-gray membrane behind me.  Night arrived
                                                                        as fitful, silent
weightlessness.  And there was nothing else. 

Years before he would sing in Ionic Greek
of the brave souls fallen as carrion for the dogs,
of the bloody siege of Ilion, of the sirens
and the Lotus-Eaters, Homer was a blind banger
in south Chicago.  It was discouraging.
He longed for epic stories of timae or keleos,
but instead there was one about the ghetto star
whose durag slipped so far across his eyes
 
he shot his own cousin in the calf.
And the hoot rat who fell from a first-floor
window and broke her clavicle.  And everyone
drinking 40’s and getting sucked on
by some strawberry.  Or that BG doing a bomb
and ending up in the Academy for pissing
on a PoPo’s shoe.  It was all MSB this
or FTW that.  It was still another toss up
 
or saggin to the point it was nearly impossible
to walk.  And everyone kept asking him to tell
that one about the fugly so fat you couldn’t
find the spot amid her folds.  Sometimes
there were days when he would go out on a g-ride
or would be working curb service when all
he could think about was how bleak
the Chicago streets felt in the cold.

And even though he flew the flag, was always
and forever, and was selected once as a joke
to be the blow man, he dreamed some day of finding
a leather bag containing all the winds, of Achilles’
strength and wrath, of dead Patroclus, of dactylic
hexameter, of hubris, of a young Nausicaa or the Cyclops
or the spirit of Tiresias or Circe or the cannibal Laestrygones
or the monster Scylla—then finally home to Ithaca.

Charon and Chiron were frat boys
together in college.  Few people could tell
them apart.  True, Chiron was half man,
half horse, while Charon was a god of hell
and worked weekends collecting coins
on the River Acheron.  Still, in their junior year
at the University at Oklahoma they roomed together,
and though Chiron was president
of the TKE’s, pre-med, and engaged
to the nymph Chariclo, he counted Charon
as his closest friend.  It mattered little
that Charon was stick-skinny as a corpse,
a miser with an obolus, and a foul-tempered
Mortuary Science major: they got drunk
together every Friday and Saturday night
as frat brothers, tormented new recruits
with the TKE mascot Cerberus,
and screamed together until they were hoarse
at every Sooners game.  Once they both vomited
within five minutes of each other
at an 8:00 a.m. sociology class,
and another time they hired strippers
and sent them to the chaplain’s house.
It was true that Chariclo found Charon insufferable,
but the one time she tried to say so
Chiron pointed the one frat boy’s truth:
if one of the two had to go, it was
her skinny ass out the door.

 

After my long sleep I awoke to find
that things had changed.  Blue refinery flames
flickered above the strip malls.
Oracles spoke through strange boxes
at the drive-up window at the Taco Bell.
I meant to sacrifice a goat as thanks
for my long journey through the eons,
but the goat began munching on the oddly
orange cheetos I’d purchased at the Wal-Mart
Superstore, and in the end I tied the animal to a rope
in the back yard, let him munch on the grass,
and lay down on a hammock to gather myself.
The tattoos hidden on my skin spoke
of great auguries and necromancies
and oneiromancies, but all I had to do
was flip on the satellite television and entire worlds
of occultations flickered forth.  Once I thought
I saw Aphrodite standing with a hand on her hip
in the window of a Victoria’s Secret,
but the next moment I was munching on a caramel
pecanbon at the Cinnabon kiosk, watching the mall
elevators rise with glass windows as though toward
a wonder that not even Gaea could envision.