ekphora (or, telemachus dreams of funerals)

The following piece is the poetry winner of F(r)iction’s Spring 2022 literary contest

an almost pecha kucha

that afternoon with the horses

they just can’t seem to be still for my hands, too without practice in tethering
worn leather & olive bark.      peisistratus learned from his father
how breaking works.      they ought to be more thankful:      we bring them to water,
they gnaw at the dirt, limbs long like tree roots in muscle.      peisistratus laughs sunlight.

my mother’s suitors
stalking the breast of ithaca as if, like a god, their steps might shake the earth, have they never
prayed to crawl back inside their mother?          my father’s nurse says odysseus-son, see the goats,
they always seem cliff-caught to us, while to them we are brush-bound.     i count birds but only sometimes.       they hang.

after dinner the suitors spit olive pits
their overall tendency has been a salty shout
or bone-dice flung across stone & choosing not to know,
the consequences of which have been an empty that fills
itself.  my mother pours wine.

the birds, hanging
in the sky they tell stories. once in a while the stories
are suitable.  sprinkling grain & swirling honeyed wine,
we decide what their holy silence means.               no one asks the birds
if they wanted to be quiet.

dreaming: one thing girls & goddesses have in common is too many strangers in their rooms

pregnant with incense & skin-scent, the room opens like a mouth. she sits up, shining
hair a curtain of decency through which my father’s hand has charted every route.
with eyes closed does her nymph nakedness cast my mother’s name like a spell? from the bed
my father says: telemachus, you too will understand one day, when your wife gives you a son.

they don’t appear to understand
something slips through my throat every time my mother says
if only they would make an effort to         —what?
there are no altars for marriage in ithaca, only sacrifice.        how difficult it is
for these suitors to untether her name.         mine is easy.

before sons there is blood in the bed
& before blood in the bed, brides wash the daughter out of their limbs, welcome
husbands who once were men who were once kállos & unacquainted with regret.
this one is from arcadia, i think. after my bed & against the light he redresses,
he looks at me, says you know i will make a good husband for your mother.

peisistratus braids blade & spear shaft
fingers careful with sun-warm leather as with sun-warm hair.    i polished that cypress
last night.        like rope, tanned hide is at its strongest when used many times before.
he never speaks of his mother. sometimes i press my face to the tree which anchors
my parents’ marriage bed, sometimes        i wonder how deep its roots twist.

dreaming: they will carry odysseus home atop his shield
grey as the deep & fat with death.  no one sings mourning hymns
when scaling a fish.  clever, what funeral shroud the loom of ithaca’s tides might weave.
sea-weeds & shell-shards, my mother’s wail or maybe me laughing.        imagine:
a soldier trips up the hill.      my father’s bloat rolls back down to shore.

remember that afternoon with the horses
& our feet, sand-naked. birds do not fret over un-oiled shoulders & noonday sweat.
zephyros combed the grass to an earthy-sweet cushion.            we lay out, we discuss
who is rosier:   Eros or this little dawn in the cup of a palm.       we pretend
we have any interest in wives.    the horses drink.        we forget our names.


Lenk writes poetry, prose, and everything queer between. He alums the University of South Florida English, History, and Classics departments and the University of Washington MFA, specializing in lyric/hybrid fiction, adaptation theory, and un-straighting Western literary criticism. Currently, he teaches creative writing and composition at the University of Washington. His work has received and/or been nominated for prizes such as the Pushcart, Best New Poets, Best American Short Stories, and the Walter Dean Myers Award. A full list of print and online publications can be found at https://www.lenkcreative.com/

Steffen Wachsmuth

Image by Steffen Wachsmuth from Pixabay