Ode to the Hand Wrapped Around the Achilles Heel


"...martyr to loyalties, a witness to the things 
of this world, ...ready to die for the precious 
imperfections of ordinary life."
~ James Redfield, Nature and Culture in the Iliad

Good husband material: her aunt's
assessment, watching as her fiancé
helps his parents navigate the narrow

staircase from the gallery where
they've gone to see his brother's
art opening. He goes out in the rain

to get the car which he parked at the end
farthest from both entrance and exit ways,
lessening the off-chance a lorry or

firetruck or other large vehicle
might lose its brakes, swerve from
the road and ram into theirs.

Over the years, she comes to learn
how certain habits and the ways
he likes to do things are driven by

some combination of fear, planning
and precision, even if—or perhaps
because—most things are outside

the realm of total human jurisdiction.
In The Iliad, their son in her arms,
Andromache pleads with Hector

not to go back to fight in a war
that he opposes. But he is the kind
of man for whom duty to country

is synonymous with obligation to family—
He will do what he can to prevent their
being taken as spoils of war or slaves.

Homer writes, A thousand camp-fires
gleamed upon the plain
. When it is his
time to go, he only wants to go

with honor. Because victors in any
kind of war don't always have compassion,
Achilles gloats, not only calling on dogs

and vultures to desecrate the corpse of his
enemy but also slitting his heel tendons,
passing leather thongs through them

and dragging Hector's body in the dust.
This story is meant to illustrate
weakness in any figure, victor

or victim. Thus, every human fear of the end
is likely the wish to protect, to render secure
if not invincible, whoever is in their care.

Here is the ankle held fast in the mother's
hand, the one blind spot her love kept dry
from the waters of the underworld.

Here is the rain that falls on all their
heads, with not a shield in sight; and always,
someone who volunteers to go first or last.

~ for RVI

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