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Wayne Karlin: The Lotus Eaters

Odysseus removing his men from the company of the lotus-eaters. (Odyssey, Book 9)

.

And so he returned to Ithaca:

walked naked from the sea

and saw his shadow

fall on the white marble

of the palace:

A soldier’s shadow

diminishing as he drew

closer

hunching as if years

piled onto his shoulders

with each step,

and malicious suitors

shaped the seaweed

dripping from him into

a crown of madman’s

hair for the parade of

the King of Fools.

He stopped then and

looked at the

glass rock Calypso

had given him,

clutched in his hand

still, after his

long swim

and he saw in its depths

a milky mist parting

to the years ahead.

Tell again about Troy,

Odysseus, Penelope says,

still knitting his shroud

and Telemachus makes a face

and tries on a new robe

as the courtiers nudge each other

and cover their yawns 

with soft palms,

their manicured fingers

fluttering

and he can see in their eyes

they don’t believe

men could sit in the dark

waiting to be devoured by

a monster who would tear

their limbs and rip their faces

with his rotten teeth,

splinter their bones with the force

of his bite into razoring shards

that would fly through the dark

like beaked furies to slice

the life out of others.

Or that random death

could snap out of the air

and snatch some men from their

seats and leave others

alive next to them

out of no virtue but chance

Or that men could turn into pigs.

Or that red slaughter would bloom

from wounded love.

Or that men yearning for

home and hearth and the

touch of woman and child

could tear down walls

and burn homes and

rend the mirrored flesh

they held in their own hearts

as if punishing themselves

for having hearts.

Or that men would burn a city and its children 

out of a dream of freedom and love.

Or that a man could come home

dripping out of the sea

and bearing the funeral

pyre of thousands

burning on his back and

neck and thousands of burnt

offerings still twisting behind

his eyes, writhing in his

brain like smoke.

And Odysseus knew then

he had come to the Land

of the Lotus Eaters.


Copyright 2022 Wayne Karlin

Wayne Karlin is the author of eight novels and three non-fiction books. His awards include The Paterson Prize in Fiction, The Vietnam Veterans of America Excellence in the Arts Award, and the Juniper Prize in Fiction. His short fiction collection, Memorial Days, will be published by Texas Tech University Press in Spring, 2023.

11 comments on “Wayne Karlin: The Lotus Eaters

  1. Arnold Stead
    November 12, 2022

    Thanks for the poem. I need to read it more than once. What is going on with your email? Has something happened? I must admit I am curious. Until later, my friend, Arnold

    Like

  2. Lita Krowech
    November 11, 2022

    Wow Wayne What powerful imagery. Makes me think of what I’m seeing from Ukraine. Thanks giving language to the horror.

    Like

    • Wayne Karlin
      November 12, 2022

      Thank you, Lita

      Like

  3. Wayne Karlin
    November 11, 2022

    Thank you, Sean

    Like

  4. carter7878Jefferson Carter
    November 11, 2022

    I do like poems about Greek myths, but this one is over-written, a kind of breathless list that bores after a while:

    “burnt
    offerings still twisting behind
    his eyes,” etc.

    Like

  5. Rose Mary Boehm
    November 11, 2022

    What a powerful piece. Thank you for publishing it, thank you, poet, for writing it and sharing.

    Like

    • Vox Populi
      November 11, 2022

      And thank you, Rose Mary, for your praise!

      >

      Like

    • Wayne Karlin
      November 11, 2022

      Thank you, Rose Mary

      Like

  6. Sean Sexton
    November 11, 2022

    Holy Cow!
    What I don’t know about the world and Wayne Karlin wa does! I asked John Balaban if he knew Wayne and he does. I am grateful.

    Like

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