Author: James Scruton

James Scruton’s most recent collection is Exotics and Accidentals (Grayson Books, 2012). He has poems in current or forthcoming issues of Common Ground Review, Iconoclast, Poet Lore, Poetry East, and Southern Poetry Review.

 Think how it was the seventh day,

and the tenth, the twentieth—

how people must have said

it couldn’t rain like that forever.

And then it did, at least all of forever

they would know, time becoming tide.

 

We recite those ancient stories,

mythic explanations: Pangaea

breaking up, runoff from one Ice Age

or another. Unless it all

goes back to how, by accident

or on a bet, we crawled up

 

from the salt wash onto shore,

propped our finny elbows

in the sand and caught our breath,

no ark but the deep hull

of our consciousness, the place

we first put two and two together.

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?

We love happy endings, rewards for the deserving

and long-suffering—heroes made constellations,

devoted lovers flowers, or better yet a pair of trees

growing ever in a root-to-blossom embrace.

Yet what if that old couple knew from the start
they hosted gods, saw for themselves a life beyond
the mean hut, stale crust and shallow cup?
What if it was just an act, their kindliness
and humility, outsmarting the divine and all
their Phrygian neighbors too, who hadn’t seen
the light (so obvious for miles) and thereby
missed the chance for favors from Olympus?

It wouldn’t have been the first mistake
for slumming Jove, though Mercury
should have picked up on the tone,
the feigned innocence and courtesy:
“Come rest here at the hearth,” and
“Please excuse our humble fare.”

But gods lack subtlety—lightning, flood,
Prometheus-on-the-crag their usual mode.

So in the end the whole thing backfired,
those geezers getting all they said they wished,
their hovel suddenly a temple
where they’d scrub floors and burn devotions
until they died, their disingenuous request
“to serve the gods” granted to the terrible letter.

It’s their bickering you hear in any wood,
that rustling in the trees: the linden’s bitter
heart-shaped leaves, the oak forever shaking
acorns down like so many small, hard words.

.

James Scruton’s most recent collections are the chapbooks: Galileo’s House, available from Finishing Line Press, and Exotics and Accidentals, available from graysonbooks.com. A sampling of other poems can be found at poetryfoundation.org.

Imagine how it felt at first,

the quick world ticking now

to her new pulse, her stepping

from the confidence of objects

into the life of that astonished man,

into his arms, his beautiful hands.

 

To lift the cold stone from his heart

she had the pity of the gods,

the patience of earth, but nothing

to describe the difference in his touch,

how fragile from that moment

everything became between them.

.

James Scruton’s most recent collections are the chapbooks: Galileo’s House, available from Finishing Line Press, and Exotics and Accidentals, available from graysonbooks.com. A sampling of other poems can be found at poetryfoundation.org.

They didn’t pack, taking only

what they wore,

those few leaves they knew now

wouldn’t be enough for the weather

where they were going: east,

apparently, and none too civilized

by the sound of it.

He did bring another apple

to tide them over on the way,

sharing it like memory,

sweet aftertaste or sour.

It would be okay, he told her

as they left, there was the world

ahead of them, lots of time

for just themselves for once.

They could travel

or start another garden,

anything they wanted

before the children,

whatever that meant,

came along.

.

James Scruton’s most recent collections are the chapbooks: Galileo’s House, available from Finishing Line Press, and Exotics and Accidentals, available from graysonbooks.com. A sampling of other poems can be found at poetryfoundation.org.