Siren Poem

On Thursday I promised you a poem about the Sirens. I share it, both in the spirit of going to the seas where Odysseus sailed, and so you can see why I write fiction instead of poetry.

WANDERING AMONG THE SIRENS

Sartre postulated that death makes life absurd.
Long before Sartre postulated, Odysseus disagreed.
The wisest man in the world, ‘tis claimed,
He declined Calypso’s offer of immortality.
Immortality plus an eternity of divine sex.
Turned it down flat.

Sartre didn’t know doodly squat.

I.

I sailed with Odysseus
Sacked Troy, cheered the destruction of the flames
Although as chance would have it
Homer never mentions my name.
Hands callused from long caress with the oar –
The rough wood was intimate and familiar
When we drove the sharpened log
Deep into the shrieking Cyclops’ eye.
I slept with my head on the sack of ill winds.
What dreams I had that night!
Riding the waves barefoot in a hurricane,
Wild dances with Artemis.

The most curious man in the world, ‘tis claimed,
Odysseus just had to hear the Sirens sing.
Lashed to the mast so he could enjoy the concert;
We had to cram beeswax in our ears
And ignore their compelling song.

Fat chance; I furtively dug mine out
While no one was looking.
Young and foolish, flush already with the sense of immortality
That the killing always brings,
How was I to know?
The deadly horror of that sweetest of all songs
Reaching so deeply into your soul
The only choices are consent or madness

I immediately knew I was lost, but it was far too late.
Before my heart could be ripped from my chest
I snapped my oar as I tore free from my seat, from all restraint
And flung myself into the sea.
Propelled toward the sand by will as well as tide
Drawn unwaveringly by the song,
Broken haft of oar in my hand
I staggered ashore among the bones of ships and men
Where before only the dead had come.

II.

Did I say consent or madness?
Nay, it was truly consent and madness.
Young and foolish, I thought death was the ultimate enemy
To be faced with courage, fought with honor,
And ultimately to lose with dignity.
How was I to know?
The deadly horror of that sweetest of all songs
Reaching so deeply into your soul
Is that you can’t die until you hear the end.

III.

The Sirens sit on their rocks and sing.
You can swim out to them, and talk at them.
Splash seawater on them.
You can pinch their perfect nipples
Yank their hair,
You can even mate with them if you’ve the determination –
I know, I was that desperate once.
But you can’t make them acknowledge your presence
And you can’t make them
stop
fucking
singing.

Is this heaven? Is this hell?
Can anything have meaning if it goes on forever?
Forever is for mountains, not men.
We were born to grasp life with both hands
And wring the last drops of sweetness before we die.

Sure is a pretty song.

 

Ulysses-sirens-Draper-LUlysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

 

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