Jack McCarthy

What Odysseus Might Have Said to Kalypso
If She Had Actually Offered Him Immortality
(As It Seemed for a Few Pages that She Might)



O mistress goddess nymph
you who dwell beyond what we call beauty
men and women live and die
in hundreds of our generations
without one glimpse of splendor
while you, your every breath is splendor
fabrics that grace your body
glow where they have touched you
like altarcloths in candlelight.

We come from nowhere
make our little rounds
wither and die and go back into nothing
while you go on
resplendent and unchanging….

Mistress goddess immortal
you have called out love
from depths in me I never knew I had
I have worshiped and cherished you.
Lover, who have lavished on me the gift
of sharing your bed of coming to know
the slick and ever slicker
inner surfaces of your body
the smell of your sex in my beard
your cadences the rhythm of
your moans when passion takes you
till they are more familiar than the beating
of this heart I used to think was mine
the far-inward look in your eyes
when our faces close together
but the point of things is elsewhere

the dream-state that overtakes you
sometimes when it pleases you
to pleasure me—

yours is a love that does not need to be
forever thinking ahead to the next thing
because there is after all

You are the island, we are grains of sand.
The tide rolls us in
deposits us awhile upon your strand
then at the wine-dark whim of the sea
or worse, its vast disinterest
we are swept away again to rest
forever unaccounted and unmissed
upon the ocean floor
no one ever to tell our story.

You offer me what all men dream about.
We sweat and strive, endure, connive
train our bodies school our minds
on the dream of the offchance
that now and again we might win this—
the boudoir prepared for our coming
the hero’s welcome the lover’s kiss.

You are the moon
that night by night is different
and month by month the same.
You show us only what you’d have us see.
We are wisps of cloud that drift
across your face by night
we cannot hold one shape
for even the brief moment
we are visible only by your light.

Maybe, in a thousand years or so
men or gods more wise and eloquent
will have devised a graceful way of saying
what you know is coming—

there is another, and I belong to her
in ways I never understood
until I learned from you
the wisdom of the heart.
Penelope: is she as beautiful as you,
as skilled at sacred arts of love?
Does she have as much to teach,
as much to offer me as you?

I will not disparage her to you
but no, on all counts.
You are a goddess
if this were a competition
like that other one
she and I would be humiliated forever
glimpsing the depths of our unworthiness.

But what it has taken
all my adventures to teach me is that
if there is a point in being human
it isn’t being first or best or winning
it has not to do with competition.
My choice is not which one of you is better
my choice is simply which of you is mine.

I once told someone that my name was No-man.
Today I know that I am one man—
not less than one, nor more than man.

Maybe there is no meaning to human life
but if there is it has to do
with things begun in earnest.
It’s with Penelope that I shall find it.

The life that we began was flawed,
a fragile, mortal, human thing.
Already it is dreadfully curtailed
maybe maimed beyond recovery.
I need I need to go back
for what little may be left.

Mistress, goddess, I am at your mercy.
Do with me what you will.
Snuff out the guttering candle that I am.
Or, exalting me in legend sentence me
to some eternal torment like Prometheus.
Or humor me, and smile me back to bed
making me forget all this
like a dream that flickered dimly in the light of dawn
that I never tried to apprehend
that left behind it no more than
a child’s footprint in wet sand
between wave’s retreat
and wave’s advance.

Or grant my wish
and send me with your blessing on my road
a road not given to anyone but me
and seal forever in the hearts of gods and men
that this is how a human being should act
and this, a god.

Jack McCarthy of Lake Stevens calls himself a “standup poetry guy.” Others have called him a “legend.” Poet Stephen Dobyns calls him, “one of the wonders of contemporary poetry.” The Boston Globe said, “In the poetry world, he’s a rock star.” He’s an engaging minor character in the film “Slamnation,” He has been heard on NPR, won poetry slams from Seattle to San Antonio to Portland, Maine, and been featured as far away as Germany and Spain. High school students nationally perform his work competitively.

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