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Archive for May, 2012

The House of the Turtle

Being a lost chapter of the voyages of Odysseus, on his journey homeward after the Trojan War.

I. The Woman in the Flames

O Muse! I beg thee, Calliope, come hither, hear my cry;

Give grace to my tongue, and gift unto me the fire you bring;

Let no line of this, my tale, stumble inelegantly

And let not the spirit of the story desert me until it reaches its proper end.

Adrift for so many months after the departure from Troy;

They wandered, clever Odysseus and his crew:

At the mercy of Poseidon in his fury, blown hither at the sea-god’s command.

Escaping the land of those who devour the flower, faring out from the cave of the one-eyed giant,

Braving flesh-eaters and the sorceress with her magic and metamorphosis,

Deaf to the alluring song of the winged singers, they sailed.

At last coming to a tiny island which bore no terrors nor dangers.

There, becamped on the sands of the isle’s broad and beatific sands

They built a fire, heaped high with wood cast upon that shore by wind and wave.

And there, within the flames of that blaze, they saw shadows dancing,

Moving, twisting sinuously, suggesting form and shape unfamiliar

Yet somehow known and gladdening to their hearts.

Within those flames they saw the visage of their own captain, he who stood

Upon the sands of that isle begirt by waves, wind ruffling through

The tangles that crowned his brow, and swirling down to stir the sand on which they sat,

Scattering it into their eyes until he thought he saw

The fair form and face of one he’d loved, long before that cursed voyage.

At clever Odysseus’ side another stood: the shade of a warrior bold and brave,

Weary survivor of many a battle, skilled with sword and spear and shield,

His companion from Troy and survivor of the terrible quest to gain the Golden Fleece,

Nestor, transported there from Pylos by the whim of the gods.

One among had been entertaining his fellows with tales of home,

But ere he or any other could raise his voice to call out to either man there,

A sound echoed across the sands, clashing with the roaring waves: the creak

Of a door opening, and there within the fire did open a door,

And from its haunted space a girl appeared, and all gathered there did marvel.

Her eyes shone with the luster of the dawn, and the silken locks round her fair face gleamed;

No man but looked upon her that did not find her fairer than any ever he had seen before.

Even Helen, over whom so many men had died, did not seem more beauteous in their eyes,

And without a word or sound, she cast into the leaping flames the fan of feathers

She held in one slim hand.

“Which man here, to gain my company, would not brave the terrors of Hades’ realm itself?

For I shall name as coward any who fears to take the chance.”

Odysseus, beguiled by face and form so lovely, stepped forward to claim his chance;

Nestor, having grown wise after decades of battles, deigned to risk the few years he had left,

Nor would he anger Hera by spurning the wife he had at home, sweet Eurydice; he knew

That tactics and strategy were his greatest strength, not the folly of disaster.

And so the captain stepped forth; the maiden, with the grace of one

Of the stags of wild Artemis at her rest in Delos, rushed to meet him,

Wrapping her alabaster arms round his broad shoulders;

As when he had been seduced by Circe, and Calypso, so now he succumbed to her charms.

And if such a choice was wise, it is for lesser mortals to say.

For the teller of tales may not make that decision; his tongue falls silent,

And no more will the audience hear the tale.  For is it not his task

To enlighten, and lead those who listen to ponder, and not by more blunt words

Force the answers upon them, rather than letting them come to those truths of their own accord?

The end of this tale is left unsung; gold we gift to the teller of tales, in hopes that

He will return to end the story, or to share another; but such a gift cannot be purchased

With mere coin; and now, O Muse, I beg you, listen on, for I continue the tale

That I have been commanded to recount.

II. The House of the Turtle

Within me, let insight and passion combine, O Muse, I beg of thee:

With every hue let me paint the tale, and with all parts of order and glory

Bring charm to the words I offer up to you;

Let your will be as a shield to hold back the grey dull chains

Of grief and desolation and gloom; no greater gift, nor any

Further art will I beg of you, though within the telling of this tale

I confront the unknown, so immense and shadowy that all words

Seem inadequate to paint the picture I have been told to tell.

Within this tale, heroes strive and fail, and in their endeavors also win

For themselves and for others a more lasting glory

As they set out on the journey

To the House of the Turtle.

At night, with no more radiance than the flame of one small tallow lamp,

He counts the stars that glimmer in the vast sky above;

Though most are too weak to recognize, one alone shines down from its accustomed place:

The brilliance of the clearest diamond in Aphrodite’s gleaming crown

That appears first closest to that moment

When Helios’ chariot first appears in the sky, and which outshines all others.

In that portion of the sky, past the light of the dog’s tail,

By which all mariners set their course, we hear the song of insects,

Their sweet voices rising in a melody never before known.

The House of the Turtle lies within the shadow of the moon,

And it is to that distant destination, by that road we travel,

And which we shall arrive at, when the journey is finished.

The captain cannot understand the Turtle’s Lord,

Though he has been guided by that friend of man many times before;

Clever Odysseus, for all his wiles, is as a child before He who stands at the final gate,

And the captain knows not if this road marks the beginning of a new journey

Or the end of an old one.

The Lord of the Turtle beckons; the ship lies waiting,

And the ocean stretches before the sailors as dawn comes

And the ship’s sails boom as the wind rises to fill them,

And the sun rises to show the way.

III. The Last Stop Before Journey’s Beginning

Penelope understands:

There is no place, while her lord and love is away from his home,

That knows the light that he carries about him when he is present.

Instead, even the tiniest of corners and doorways

Is shrouded with darkness, as if Helios’ chariot had fallen from the sky,

And one had come to collect the shade of the deceased

For the final journey.

Even the plainest fact is forgotten, or secreted away,

In the absence of Ithaca’s lord; with no firm ground on which to stand,

Or truth to cling to, only one last comfort remains:

The star that points to the House of the Turtle.

The wings of the Moirae echo like the crack of Zeus’ thunderbold,

Heralding the storm;

And in her heart, she knows: clever Odysseus will return home

Only if he first finds his way to the House of the Turtle.

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