A Catalog of Heroes
If Odysseus knew his crewmates’ names,
we cannot tell it. Poltroon lieutenant,
promising youth, the hapless boy who fell
from Circe’s roof—these
are named. But whole shipsful died
without a whisper of fame.
Heroes are a menace.
They strut, they duel, they declaim
on stages timbered with peasant bones.
They never take an oar—
just struggle against the bonds they begged for,
hearing siren songs they deny their crew.
Who are the shepherds spinning, spinning wool
as they watch the sheep,
weavers, carrying their work in case
a moment’s pause gives space for the shuttle?
Who are the farmers whose oxen carve the soil
to make parade grounds for arrays of grain?
Miners raising ore as if from Tartarus,
smelters torturing forth the metal,
smiths pounding its sheets
to sweet-ringing bowls or shields?
Whose kine were slain
to feed these noisy warriors;
whose vines brought sunshine to their cups?
They pound their shields with spears
as ones who never smoothed a dent,
gobble and scatter bread they never hungered
to save seed for. And show me
a hero who knows what doing laundry is …
Soil and the makers I sing—
patient daring with chance and storm and locust,
the making of next year’s harvest
even from last year’s ruins,
the dancing to greet plenty when it comes.
It is these who make the feast—
though no one honors them or seeks their tales.
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