Mycenae Lookout

for Cynthia and Dimitri Hadzi

 

The ox is on my tongue.

ųAESCHYLUS, Agamemnon

 

1. THE WATCHMAN‚S WAR

Some people wept, and not for sorrowųjoy

That the king had armed and upped and sailed for Troy,

But inside me like struck sound in a gong

That killing-fest, the life-warp and world-wrong

It brought to pass, still augured and endured.

I‚d dream of blood in bright webs in a ford,

Of bodies raining down like tattered meat

On top of me asleepųand me the lookout

The queen‚s command had posted and forgotten,

The blind spot her farsightedness relied on.

And then the ox would lurch against the gong

And deaden it and I would feel my tongue

Like the dropped gangplank of a cattle truck,

Trampled and rattled, running piss and muck,

All swimmy-trembly as the lick of fire,

A victory beacon in an abattoir...

Next thing then I would waken at a loss,

For all the world a sheepdog stretched in grass,

Exposed to what I knew, still honour-bound

To concentrate attention out beyond

The city and the border, on that line

Page 34

Where the blaze would leap the hills when Troy had fallen.

My sentry work was fate, a home to go to,

An in-between-times that I had to row through

Year after year: when the mist would start

To lift off fields and inlets, when morning light

Would open like the grain of light being split,

Day in, day out, I‚d come alive again,

Silent and sunned as an esker on a plain,

Up on my elbows, gazing, biding time

In my outpost on the roof... What was to come

Out of that ten years‚ wait that was the war

Flawed the black mirror of my frozen stare.

If a god of justice had reached down from heaven

For a strong beam to hang his scale-pans on

He would have found me tensed and ready-made.

I balanced between destiny and dread

And saw it coming, clouds bloodshot with the red

Of victory fires, the raw wound of that dawn

Igniting and erupting, bearing down

Like lava on a fleeing population...

Up on my elbows, head back, shutting out

The agony of Clytemnestra‚s love-shout

That rose through the palace like the yell of troops

Hurled by King Agamemnon from the ships.

Page 35

 

2.     CASSANDRA

No such thing

as innocent

bystanding.

 

Her soiled vest,

her little breasts,

her clipped, devast-

 

–ated, scabbed

punk head,

the char-eyed

 

famine gawkų

she looked

camp -fucked

 

and simple.

People

could feel

 

a missed

trueness in them

focus,

Page 36

 

a homecoming

in her dropped-wing,

half-calculating

 

bewilderment.

No such thing

as innocent.

 

Old King Cock-

of-the-Walk

was back,

 

King Kill-

the-Child-

and-Take-

 

What-Comes,

King Agamem

–non‚s drum–

 

balled, old buck‚s

stride was back.

And then her Greek

Page 37

 

words came,

a lamb

at lambing time,

 

bleat of clair–-

voyant dread,

the gene-hammer

 

and tread

of  the roused god.

And a result-

 

–ant shock desire

in bystanders

to do it to her

 

there and then.

Little rent

cunt of their guilt:

 

in she went

to the knife,

to the killer wife,

Page 38

 

to the net over

her and her slaver,

the Troy reaver,

 

saying, őA wipe

of the sponge,

that‚s it.

 

The shadow-hinge

swings unpredict–-

ably and the light‚s

 

blanked out.‚

Page 39

 

3. HIS DAWN VISION

Cities of grass. Fort walls. The dumbstruck palace.

I‚d come to with the night wind on my face,

Agog, alert again, but far, far less

 

Focused on victory than I should have beenų

Still isolated in my old disdain

Of claques who always needed to be seen

 

And heard as the true Argives. Mouth athletes,

Quoting the oracle and quoting dates,

Petitioning, accusing, taking votes.

 

No element that should have carried weight

Out of the grievous distance would translate.

Our war stalled in the pre-articulate.

 

The little violets‚ heads bowed on their stems,

The pre-dawn gossamers, all dew and scrim

And star-lace, it was more through them

 

I felt the beating of the huge time-wound

We lived inside. My soul wept in my hand

When I would touch them, my whole being rained

 

Down on myself, I saw cities of grass,

Valleys of longing, tombs, a wind-swept brightness,

And far-off, in a hilly, ominous place,

Page 40

Small crowds of people watching as a man

Jumped a fresh earth-wall and another ran

Amorously, it seemed, to strike him down.

Page 41

 

4. THE NIGHTS

They both needed to talk,

pretending what they needed

was my advice. Behind backs

each one of them confided

it was sexual overload

every time they did itų

and indeed from the beginning

(a child could have hardly missed it)

their real life was the bed.

 

The king should have been told,

but who was there to tell him

if not myself? I willed them

to cease and break the hold

of my cross-purposed silence

but still kept on, all smiles

to Aegisthus every morning,

much favoured and self-loathing.

The roof was like an eardrum.

 

The ox‚s tons of dumb

inertia stood, head-down

and motionless as a herm.

Atlas, watchmen‚s patron,

would come into my mind,

the only other one

42

up at all hours, ox-bowed

under his yoke of cloud

out there at the world‚s end.

 

The loft-floor where the gods

and goddesses took lovers

and made out endlessly

successfully, those thuds

and moans through the cloud cover

were wholly on his shoulders.

Sometimes I thought of us

apotheosized to boulders

called Aphrodite‚s Pillars.

 

High and low in those days

hit their stride together.

When the captains in the horse

felt Helen‚s hand caress

its wooden boards and belly

they nearly rode each other.

But in the end Troy‚s mothers

bore their brunt in alley,

bloodied cot and bed.

The war put all men mad,

horned, horsed or roof-posted,

the boasting and the bested.

Page 43

 

My own mind was a bull-pen

where homed King Agamemnon

 had stamped his weight in gold.

But when hills broke into flame

and the queen wailed on and came,

it was the king I sold.

I moved beyond bad faith:

for his bullion bars, his bonus

was a rope-net and a blood-bath.

And the peace had come upon us.

Page 44

 

5. HIS REVERIE OF WATER

At Troy, at Athens, what I most clearly

see and nearly smell

is the fresh water.

 

A filled bath, still unentered

and unstained, waiting behind housewalls

that the far cries of the butchered on the plain

 

keep dying into, until the hero comes

surging in incomprehensibly

to be attended to and be alone,

 

stripped to the skin, blood-plastered, moaning

and rocking, splashing, dozing off,

accommodated as if he were a stranger.

 

And the well at Athens too.

Or rather that old lifeline leading up

and down from the Acropolis

 

to the well itself, a set of timber steps

slatted in between the sheer cliff face

and a free-standing, covering spur of rock,

 

secret staircase the defenders knew

and the invaders found, where what was to be

Greek met Greek,

Page 45

the ladder of the future

and the past, besieger and besieged,

the treadmill of assault

 

turned waterwheel, the rungs of stealth

and habit all the one

bare foot extended, searching.

 

And then this ladder of our own that ran

deep into a well-shaft being sunk

in broad daylight, men puddling at the source

 

through tawny mud, then coming back up

deeper in themselves for having been there

 like discharged soldiers testing the safe ground,

 

finders, keepers, seers of fresh water

 in the bountiful round mouths of iron pumps

and gushing taps.

Page 46

Source: Seamus Heaney. The Spirit Level. New York: The Noonday Press, 1996. 34-46.