No. 6


Reginald Shepherd  


Gods and demigods are disasters:
kingship without kingdom,
his summer is war

Fleet Achilles refuses to outrun death,
his thighs white with dust
as if he were already ash
and burned bone: a lesser deity
failed into flesh, his solitude
ratified by slaughter

He is the thing that happens
only once, repeated
in blind effigy, the acrid smoke
of praise-song epithets: all glory
and catastrophe, he carries his grace
like a wound

His war burns like summer,
Troyís beach is singed gold,
the sea is not in his keeping


He is a beautiful killing machine,
and he is dead:

One boy kissed into bliss
by myth, who canít remember
his own name, canít hear
the fatal fact of him
echoing down the busy centuries
he has no time for anymore

(But if you do not go
you will be loved and forgotten)

He canít feel his fame
kissing menís throats
that he would cut if he were here:
Achilles is wind
held in the mouth,
a breeze parting the lips

These are not words
and will not last


The gods grow bored with men
who have no stories


Dipped him in the viscous stygian flow
held by one mortal heel: slipping out
of his motherís saltwater hands,

he kills and is killed by turns,
greatest of the fabled dead
from the day of his oracled birth


His sword singing through bone
and sinew makes a happy monster music
Hades approves; Hades admires him

and covets his shadow to catch and keep
where shadows are cast only
by shadows, by haze and by fog


Achilles the killer of heroes and cowards
kills Hector the hero of Troy
who thought that he had killed Achilles:

drags his pierced body around Patroclusí tomb,
then hands his ransomed body back in tears:
ďIíll see you soon, my brotherĒ

On the eighteenth day his body burns
upon a pyre; his soul pernes in a gyre

moth-flutter in the funerary wind
corpse-light singes midnight

Alive he rejects the sacrifice, but
dead boys demand it


Better to be a slave of a slave
and full of breath
than king of all ghosts underground:

to look into the light of living things
is sightís delight; two copper pennies
pay his eyes closed


If the tortoise is given the lead
Achilles can never finish the race


He is a summer revolutionary, turning
with the solar year:

having passed out of his motherís
marine safekeeping,
he does the work of wind:

a verbal scar on the strand
ten minutes of martial music

Call him the waxing season, saltwater
at high tide answers the moon,
challenging all satellite

It is right that Achilles should be beautiful
and fatal: his glory walks hand in hand with death
past ruined statues of his boyish virtue:

his box of broken boys bled dry,
his skin unmarred by history
or the weather called remorse

Caught by the shadow of his heel
whose half-god flesh couldnít be caught,
he remains a hero of the sun




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