Reginald Shepherd


A Little Iliad

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 mother’s 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 Patroclus’ tomb,
then hands his ransomed body back in tears:
“I’ll see you soon, my brother”


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 sight’s delight; two copper pennies
pay his eyes closed


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


© 2008 Electronic Poetry Review