Author: Paul Hostovsky

                  The great hall below
at this point rang with a tremendous sneeze—
                                      The Odyssey

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
And the sneeze traveled
through time

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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From the rearmost concert riser in elementary school band
he overshot a low note on the first
refrain of “76 Trombones” and lost
his slide. It slipped from his hands, clattered and bounced
down underneath the clarinets and oboes,
past the bassoons and flutes to the strings, where at last
it came to rest at the foot of the first violinist.
Slithering down in hot pursuit on his elbows,
he found himself in an underworld of soles
all beating out the time in a knee-deep darkness.
Retrieving his slide, he turned back at Janet Cole’s
pumps, but couldn’t resist looking up her dress
into that darker darkness—his only swerving. In that pause
he lost his head, and eternity roared—like applause.

“Young Orpheus” originally appeared in White Pelican Review, Vol. 5, issue 1.

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After every job he did he said
god. He wasn’t talking to god,
he was talking to himself
but if he didn’t say god
after a job he did he didn’t
do the job right he said
to himself and not to god
or Bildad the Shuhite. It wasn’t
his job to say god—that
was someone else’s job,
and it wasn’t superstitious
as if not to say it violated some
principle of magic. It was more
of a burp. It came from being
full of amazement, and heartbreak,
and sick with desire for the world,
and something not of the world.
It came from being on the job and on
his toes. He was on his feet all day for
god’s sake. But he wasn’t on the lookout
for god. For that was someone else’s job.
He just happened to have a nose
for god. An ear for god. You could say he had
a good eye for god but it wasn’t his job and he wasn’t
even talking to god. He was mad at god.

“Job” originally appeared in Rock & Sling, Vol. 4, issue 1.

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It wasn’t rape it was
perfectly tender the way he
enjoyed her body. Granted
his was the only volition in the room
as he circled and circled, staring, sniffing
and touching here and there in passing.
Oh she was stunning. He took in
her face for much, much longer
than her eyes would have permitted
if they weren’t nailed to the floor like
a slave’s eyes. He sized her up,
climbing slowly down her perfect body
then up again to her eyes which were
still frozen there on the floor like two small
winter deaths. But it wasn’t rape it was
breathtaking the way her breasts
gave themselves up ineluctably to his
tampering hands, her magnificent
nipples much darker and larger than he
had imagined. And when her first tear fell—
the only movement in the room outside
of his movements—he kissed it lovingly away,
and guided her gently, mythically down
to the floor where he fucked her next to her eyes.

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