After the slaughter of the suitors, the hall
scorched and scoured, Odysseus traveled
to his father’s farm, eager for reunion.
Twenty years he’d been warring or bewitched
or lost, and for many decades I wondered
why he chose, finding Laertes kneeling
in the orchard and spading under a sapling,
to deceive the old man instead of embracing
his gaunt form. Their hearts and the story
are ready for redemption, so the mystery
of the wayfarer’s setting a test of loyalty
is no small matter, nor his sire’s compulsion
to answer in kind. Yet a part of my nature
understands whenever I step over the timbers
that border my father’s garden and see him
staking tomatoes or snatching weeds from
between the pea vines. We agree on so little
beyond squash blossoms of this plot that my
absence seems vast as the years that wanderer
circled the world looking for his true spirit
and trying to live up to his father’s dreams.
Like Odysseus I approach him as a stranger
and praise his skills with soil but steer clear
of any matters of the heart. I should ask
forgiveness and offer it, ashamed to harbor
any rancor, but all my schemes fall short,
and I cannot reach out to touch his icy
hair nor induce any muse to assist me.
In Homer’s poem those two men contest
but are too humane to sustain it. We keep
resisting, as if pledged to strife. In simpler
times, night coming on, we could embrace
to face the dark together, but first we must
discover a way to be men without cruelty,
to cast off mulish pride and our armor,
and I, also, need to be down on my knees.