Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Apollo Considers the Humans

Dear gods, fellow infinities,
let’s not debase ourselves.
How many of our countless breaths
are we to waste on such as these?

Consider sea-foam, cave-sweat,
wet snow in a breeze, a low tide’s
glittering debris; should we fret
over mere pittances? For wharf rats

drowning in a wave?
Should we let that one there,
inflamed by what’s called grief,
dragging his foe through dust,

dazzle eternity? It makes me
dizzy to look so far down.
None of us knows why he
won’t join the others eating

squid and roast calf there on the beach
where dusk-fires blaze. Not all
you delegates, not this vast council,
could unravel him to me.

If they know flesh will fall—
spear-torn, despoiled by dogs—then
why anoint it so devotedly in oil?
And in those rare gaps when

they’re not driving each other
through, why do they dream
of such dull things: spring weather,
children, or the pinks and limes

of some far city slowly chafed
to nothing by the sea? Sometimes
they make sweet smoke. Some
charms, though dim, shine through,

like when they wash themselves
of blood, pour wine, and waste
the night debating if they’re
more than shade or breath, no more

than eddies of our surplus air,
fleeting as bat-swoop over flame.
Someone says Yes. Another No.
This lasts till dawn. Not much, I know,

but like fish thrashing in a net,
it’s shiny. Vivid. Almost sweet.
The will to bear inside such
small four-chambered stuttering

ten-chambered grief. A wild litany
of pain, and then more pain.
Here only they excel. I’ve seen
a girl clutching a broken comb

for hours in a strange bed, weeping,
then get up. I can’t say how.
Nor why they’ll stare all evening
as the sea’s roseate darkens to rose,

or smile when their weight
lands on a bent right leg, letting
a javelin go. We are above such
blemishes: the burden of wonder,

or pity, or shame. Risking
nothing for beauty, permitted
no change. Such talks therefore
kill time but settle nothing.

Give them up. Let’s leave these
to the bounty of their tears.
Let that one think her husband
still breathes air. Let her, oblivious,

draw him a bath he’ll never take.
Let that man, bent by age, driven
by sorrow past all sense, leave
home to beg the body of a son

dragged now through dust for days.
If anything could make me weep,
it would be this, to know his
weeping won’t make any difference,

and watch him still go on, foolish
and vain, over the fragrant ash,
down to the ships, down
to the dark indifferent sea.  

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