Odysseus, poetry by Michael L. Utley at Spillwords.com
Unreal Airtist



written by: Michael L. Utley


I saw Odysseus sprawled on the sidewalk between
The squalid little deli and the boarded-up
All-night video place whose weather-stained
Posters advertised GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS
Amid obtuse indecipherable graffiti and
A fallen constellation of multi-hued shards of
Broken glass that crunched underfoot like
Bone fragments
The patina of snow about him
Pristine in its absence of footprints from
Passers-by as if the stench of his
Existence had formed an unseen barrier
A half-moon DMZ buffering
His world from ours
And ours from his
And seemed to accelerate those who passed
As if sling-shotting them along their snowy
Midnight trajectories by means of his own
Anomalous gravity
And he was invisible
This shivering, coughing Odysseus
This Odysseus of ancient rheumy eyes and
Filth-caked garb of indeterminate color and
Dirty twitching fingers destroyed by age and arthritis
That latched onto
Nothingness in the inhuman chill
Of this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus standing on the corner
Across from the new shopping mall with
Hundreds of stores and a garish
Sign filling up half the blazing summer sky
The color of which no one noticed as they
Funneled mindlessly into the parking lot of sticky asphalt
Eager to rid themselves of their wealth
Like lemmings compelled by the inexorable call
Of the briny deep
This sun-stroked Odysseus’ sign
Garnered far less attention
And like some weird contrary magnetism it
Served only to avert the eyes of eager shoppers
Whose cash-bulging wallets held no alms
This day or any other day for anyone
With the temerity the gall the nerve
To spoil the festive mood of capitalism
And he was invisible
This gaunt, silent Odysseus
This Odysseus of haunted eyes the shade of
Tortured youth and abandonment
An aura about him that described an intimate ken
Of the black brackish hearts of fathers
Who show their children love by means of
The belt the closed fist the bruise the shattered bone
His outstretched hand unseen, voided
In the swelter and exhaust fumes
Of this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus posed beneath the arc-sodium glare
Of streetlights in stilettos and not much else
As vehicles prowled the night like hungry panthers
Purring as they edged up to the curb to test their prey
Whose prayers, if any, went unanswered day by day
Whose god was the black tar of forgetfulness
Purchased nightly with the currency of her body
And she leaned hesitantly into the maw of the predator
A deal done through open-windowed anonymity
Then undone moments later amid an avalanche
Of raucous laughter and filthy epithets
As the panther sprang from the curb in search of other prey
Stranding her alone in the antiseptic wash
Of the indifferent streetlights that left her feeling
All the more dirty
And she was invisible
This trembling, empty Odysseus
This Odysseus of painted eyes the shame of which
No amount of camouflage could veil
The craving in her veins an all-out roar
Obliterating everything
Tears gone eons ago
Fear driving her like some twisted dynamo
Toward the blackness of the next fix
Or the grave
In this strange distant land
Far from home

I saw Odysseus supinated on the center stripe
Of a dark desert highway
Leather-gloved hands folded neatly on leather-clad breast
As four cops stood chatting idly above him like distracted pallbearers
His motorcycle a hundred feet away in a thousand pieces
His helmet still attached and useless
As the shield of a fallen warrior
A mere formality at this point
The silent ambulance en route with idiot lights flashing
To scoop this thing off the road and deposit it
Somewhere else
And he was invisible
This stilled, hushed Odysseus
This Odysseus of black leather and broken body
Who would soon cease to be a nuisance to the cops
And become a nuisance to the coroner
And then to the earth itself
And then forgotten
Just some meaningless blip on the back page
Of the next day’s paper where the anonymous
Go to die
In this strange distant land
Far from home

I have seen Odysseus at the hospital stitched with tubes
A human loom
I have seen Odysseus in the dim hallways of high school
Eyes glued to the floor in a gauntlet of cat-calls
I have seen Odysseus unconscious in the shade of an oak in the city park
Reeking of cheap booze and excrement
I have seen Odysseus on dusty shoulders of forgotten highways
Faded signs in hand that say Albuquerque or Denver or Phoenix
I have seen Odysseus in the bleachers of baseball games
On county road crews in supermarkets in churches
In unemployment lines in bars in prisons
In the mirror

Everywhere I look he is there
Trying to find his way back

In this strange distant land
Far from home

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