Achilles & Patroclus

The last few hours have presented some crazy synchronicity I thought I’d share.  But it involves some storytelling.  And since I don’t usually feature a lot of storytelling I thought it might be good for the blog.

This morning Pete and I spent a few hours at two Farmers Markets.  He’d been gone for a few days and it was great to have him home and beside me and just enjoying such a beautiful day in the city.  We got home a few hours ago and I started roasting some garlic scape I picked up at the market and started reading the Sunday New York Times while Pete snoozed on the couch and finished reading Armistead Maupin’s latest book (which he enjoyed very much thank you very much snippy Washington Post reviewer).   Earlier I’d been reading some from a two dollar edition of Aristotle I picked up down on Calvert County yesterday.  My friend Kim and I had driven down for the day to the birthday party of a friend of her’s and stopped into a book sale. 

So, this morning I began reading the Aristotle book — the introduction anyway, and I’d been reading about Aristotle and Alexander and the Greeks and Persians.  It was in keeping with a strange and wonderful Achilles jag I’ve been in of late.  It started a few months back when I attended a reading of three Irish poets at the National Geographic.  Achilles_patroclus2 The reading was lovely and I especially enjoyed the work of Michael Longley, a living Irish poetic legend who was new to me (don’t you love it when you discover someone really good and you have the delight to immerse yourself?).  One of the poems he recited, "Ceasefire" involved the interaction between Achilles and King Priam in the Iliad.  The recent movie Troy (not surprisingly) destroyed the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus.  A reading of the text shows they were lovers.  Achilles kills Hector to avenge the death of his lover.  He then makes arrangements to spend eternity with him… it’s all very clear in the Iliad.  So, Longley’s poem — which is quite moving — describes the point when old King Priam comes into the enemy’s camp, to Achilles, (who remember has just killed Priam’s son Hector) and begs him for the body of his son Hector.  Achilles agrees to give King Priam Hector’s body and then they sit for a meal together.  I loved Longley’s poem very much.  But I feel it lacked any real sense for the loss that Achilles had suffered at losing Patroclus.  In Longley’s poem [read it here], Achilles is shown as a standup guy for giving Priam Hector’s body.  But that’s about it.  One would have to know the rest of the story to read into it the depth of Achilles’ clear loss as he too sits at the table with the father of the man who took his greatest love away. 

So, ever since that reading and hearing that poem I’ve had in the back of my head the desire to write a poem about that very thing.  Perhaps a revisiting of that scene in a way that balances the wound and loss.  I’m not saying that Priam was trying to erase anything.  I think it’s just not his element and perhaps he wasn’t looking for it.

Then about a week ago the wonderful poet Jeff Mann submitted a few poems for the Fall issue of White Crane on "Lovers."  One of them is about Achilles and Patroclus although it takes place before the battle where Patroclus dies.  Reading the poem sort of revived the task I’d set before myself from Longley’s poem.  A few days later I woke up in the middle of the night and tossing and turning I thought of a few lines that were clearly about this idea.  I reached for Achilleapaper and pen, which is always beside the bed, and I wrote the lines down.  The next morning I read them again and they were in my head for the rest of the day.

Later Pete and I went down to Eastern Market to see what we could see and ran into some lovely apricot-colored yarrow for the garden.  The color was just beautiful and different from the yellow colored yarrow you usually see.  We picked up a nice bit of it to put in the front garden and placed it in its new place when we got home.

Later that night I went online and started looking up information about yarrow and was stunned to find that the scientific name for yarrow.  It’s achillea millefolium. There’s Achilles again.  Something’s going on.

Back to today and I’m reading Aristotle and it’s welling up the Greeks and the lovers and the wonderful day we spent out in the beautiful weather and with my love of life and how much I’ve missed him the last few days.  I went and wrote the following:

Shall I make us Greek
Because they recorded the names of people like us?
Patrocles and Achilles?
Alexander and Haphaestion?
Hadrian and Antinous?
Ignoring their slaves and empire?

Shall I invoke the names of whispers?
The Lovers that are clear to us
Beyond the burned letters and evasions?
David and Jonathan?
Whitman and Doyle?
Dali and Lorca?

Every choice will involve a fight with our enemies
Who have always held erasers in their hands
To wipe away any trace of us.

Will there be a trace of us?
Must there be a haunting line in every sweet day
That ages hence no one will remember us
Or remember that men like us knew this kind of love?

I should bow and genuflect
At the mere ability to have these days,
To have these moments of truth and gentleness,
I cannot risk the historic,
Or imagine truth as some grander gesture.

The simple act of our loving
Is the simplest action of self love.

Newarklovers And then I left it alone.  I left it on the screen and went back to reading the paper.  The war, the local news, and then a story from New Jersey [read it here] over the weekend.  About a boy who paid, like many of his other friends, to have pictures of a kiss, just like everyone else, in his yearbook.  And the magic marker and the erasure.  And the superintendent claiming she stands for "tolerance" when she orders teachers, (TEACHERS! Teachers who are to "teach"!) to take the stink of black magic markers to the same image on the same page in over 300 copies of a high school yearbook and erase the offending image of two boys who love each other and share a kiss.

I put the story aside and after I’ve finished reading the paper I carry it over to show it to Pete who’s in the living room and I pass the laptop with the poem on it.  And there it is today.  Achilles and Patroclus and Andre and David and yes, Pete and me.

One thought on “Achilles & Patroclus”

  1. Your very interesting post popped up in my Google Alert just because you mentioned shopping at Eastern Market.

    Because so many people think it’s closed post fire, I just thank anyone who lets the world know that it is really there. It’s open 6 days a week,and it’s still a vital part of the texture of this community.

    Pretty far from Patrocles and Achilles, but a lot of people appreciate every visit and mention.

    Thanks,

    Michael

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