Odysseus died in my dream last week
in the ancestral orchard, next to the palace.
He held, for almost a second, the same pose
as a wave toppling onto the shore; then he toppled,
one hand clutched to the good earth he loved
so little, grasping at wind-thin grass shoots,
mingling with fallen olive pits, the other pressed
to his chest, tearing at deep-anchored hair
tipped white by age and Troy, his long years
of stringing the bow, squinting down its width—
a hero’s death, though not heroic, the only salutes
to his fall the trace of zephyr across oily leaves
and the murmur of the jays. He was the last
of his comrades, the one storm-blown
back to Ithaca, the weak-willed beach sand,
the shoreline where he lit a pyre that seethed
above the failing light of dusk. Perhaps
he saw them at the end—his men, beckoning
with their spears, eager to conquer the far,
dark reaches, wanting only a strong hand
at the prow; or was it Penelope, busy
with the loom, unweaving the shroud
for a death he never thought to have?
Grey-eyed Athena offered her shield hand
to raise him from the root-strewn ground,
show him to his next and final path.
Did you see it, too, Homer—the scene,
the end of your story and your fame? My dream
may be your dream, and I the borrower.
Or I may have it wrong: the figure yearning
skyward like a boat’s crushed hull may be you,
the clench of your ribs pulled down at last
by gravity. You knew you could not let him go.
And so you strained, clawed to the clouds,
bellowing to Zeus with your breath-dead lungs,
shattering his well-earned rest like a cowherd
who, discovering that the calf of the two
most prized of his flock is stranded on a ledge
above the gale-harsh sea, begins to climb
the jagged rocks, fallen bones of careless men
littered around him, terns screeching as he steps
with feet lodged between the slippery crags,
only to find, halfway, that he has lost his place
in the simile.
— Michael Lawson