Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now.
Homer, The Iliad
Edit by Nicoletta Poulakida, ‘il miglior fabbro’
(Notes at end of poem)
Uproot the dead for they define the future,
Crucible of the present has this extension:
Spirit housed in a carnal instrument,
Great Achilles hidden in a community of women,
Dressed as a compliant girl; the fate of a goddess narrowly avoided–
Fear of losing her son reflects a mortal mother’s tact–
Yet Penthesilea lived, fought, strove till death;
She merges with all who are indomitable,
Mixing past with present, present with future time.
Conscripted by fate to restore the bridal state,
Achilles, in double-breasted mail, wields a perfect blade,
Cuts flesh from its woven nerve and bone;
Mortal wounds sundering the expanse of hope.
Anxiety enough to run an army unrecruited,
Spies confer on what will animate the mission:
Hang all traitors in the court of last resort;
A brief no level of argument can reverse,
Kings folded into the void of martial judgement,
Kneeling sisters of mercy unnoticed, unheard, untouched.
No diversion alters the animal imperative,
Achilles’ blade derives meaning in death,
Guides purpose to its transcendent throne;
Blade of procreation rests for a separate trial,
Errant pleasure to replace the mortal realm:
A wound that will not heal till love unravels,
A delicate clasp that upholds the domestic knot,
Lives in time’s storm over the mortal form.
Warrior has one concern in life’s kingdom,
Conquest turns to ownership of the body politic:
Obsequious courtiers adjust all necessary documents;
Writs that uphold the transfer of power,
Conflicts expeditiously resolved,
Analysis a preoccupation of bloodless times.
Achilles reveals nothing that betrays force,
Would not allow the will a testament of ambivalence,
Nor retreat to thwarted desire projected on his unwed state;
Tidal powers reign over his expediency,
Lust one more spoil of war:
Life a series of aggrandizements,
What can be known of no heart-rending consequence,
Jostling of armor, tearing of flesh, gloriae in bello self-explanatory.
Half-immortal in a human shell,
Even this gift fraught with despair:
What voyage lies on the other side,
Unwinds blind-sided by the still unknown?
Memory forged in deprivation,
Mental gravity distorts perception:
Flattening the crescent mind,
Two-dimensional portraits abound.
No one steps free of their life alive:
Achilles will die in an epic’s shadow,
What’s left untold folds in a startling light.
Honour deeper than blood defines destiny:
Patriarchy shadows the known globe.
Horses and airborne weapons fly,
Amazons occupy the queendom of sisterhood,
No thought of domestic servitude;
Troy’s skyline a monstrous façade,
Achilles petulant when rebuked,
Friendship the core of the mortal reactor:
Trust enlarges human scope,
Allegiance squares human design.
Sex so anticlimactic if faith reveals,
Linked in pursuit of human goals,
Transfigured in radiant alliance.
Returning home radiates adventure,
More lessons delivered as if reborn:
Taught, re-taught the spooling narrative;
The dead overrule the present as if alive,
Another myth to secure the multitude,
More beliefs framed in the gallery of the sacred,
Experienced in the furnace of trembling needs.
How else can displacement thrive?
Warriors have long left the arid plains;
Fear hosts the last supper of legal bonds,
Chiseled into a world few would do without.
Achilles has no presence in vast, calculated terms,
Amazon and Centaur flee as inspiration burns,
The present hazes over the dead’s return:
Armies of ghosts approaching citadels,
What Achilles and his decorated shield left untold.
gloriae in bello glory in war
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War and the central character and greatest warrior of Homer’s Iliad. His mother was the immortal nymph, Thetis, and his father, the mortal Peleus, was the king of the Myrmidons. Post-Homeric sources claim that in order to keep Achilles safe from the war, Thetis hides the young man at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. Achilles is disguised as a girl and lives among Lycomedes’ daughters. While visiting the court of Lycomedes in search of Achilles, Odysseus sees through his disguise and convinces him to join the Greek campaign at Troy. At the beginning of the Iliad, Achilles leaves the field of battle following a dispute with Agamemnon, the Greek leader, over possession of a female slave. Achilles urges one of his closest friends, Patroclus, to fight in his place. Patroclus dons Achilles’s armor–except for his ash spear, which only Achilles can wield–and goes into battle as a direct substitute for Achilles. Thinking he is Achilles, the great warrior Hector kills Patroclus. Upon word of the death of Patroclus, Achilles finally agrees to fight with the Greeks. As the story goes, an enraged Achilles puts on the armor and kills Hector–significantly with the ash spear–directly outside of the gates of Troy, and then dishonors Hector’s body by dragging it around tied to the back of a chariot for nine consecutive days. In later accounts, he is said to have also faced and killed Penthesilea, a queen of the Amazons, who wins his heart in death.
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