The Curse of Polyphemus

The words Odysseus had spoken rang aloud
as Polyphemus heaved the boulder high
and heard the splash that drove the ship to shore,
a sound devoid of splintered timbers and screams
of men. And so he cursed his fate, his lot,
and shook the hills with lamentation grave,
grieving his loss of sight. And lamentation
now turned to rage, he clawed the empty socket
and down his cheeks, viciously scoring them,
and said, ‘That I, far greater than lord Zeus
and all the blessèd gods, should be made blind
by such a squat and ugly man, a fate
already known to me by prophecy,
is more than I can bear, a Cyclops
removed from gods and men. What need have I
for Zeus’s laws or rules of feeble man?
No guest was he. A brigand come to steal
my flock. My might did make it right to smash
their heads upon the floor, to spill their weak
blood and devour their slackened limbs, still warm.
Such men deserve neither respect nor honor
nor life, nor does their god on high Olympus,
the tyrant Zeus.’ He raged, uprooting trees,
elm and tall ash, and cast them out to sea.
He smashed the mountain’s crumbling sides and beat
his fists against the rocks til bloody, bruised,
and broken. Turning to the sea he roared,
‘Poseidon, father, hear my prayer,
that great Odysseus should die at sea
by waves titanic, drowning ship and men,
and roll in shallows of forgotten shores,
not buried, grieved, lamented, or remembered.’
The Cyclops sat on hardened sand and cursed
his lot, lamenting sight and shame of loss
but most of all his flock and dearest ram,
companions, friends of lonely life and time.
His life for them and theirs for him, sustaining
with milk and cheese. But gone was joy and care
of tending flocks, of watching the great fleecy
ram run at once from the dark cave at dawn
to lead the flock to hill and glen and run
the river’s course, outpacing every other
before he led them home again at light’s
last glimmer when the Cyclops made his bed
and borrowed woolen warmth through cold dark nights.
And grief then shook the giant’s frame, as waves
upon the shore their rhythm beat in time.
Said he, ‘Where are you now, sweet ram so dear?
A lamb, so little once, then great and proud.
O Krios, taken by an evil man
to slaughter for uncaring gods and eaten,
a meal for No-one, who has earned his name.
Dear Krios, never will I feel your horn
so gentle nudge my hand to pet your head
or scratch your fleecy back. Never again.’
And Polyphemus, tired and alone,
sat watching a new sun he could not see.

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