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He Who Fits the Song Together
Feet hammering hard on sand.
Thick heels sinking in, slowing his gait.
The head, planted on the stocky neck, droops
As hands push back the animal-hide flap.
“Son of Peleus,” To Achilles.
The warlike hero turns, and
As eye meets eye the voice dies.
But it is used.
“He is dead.”Ears stop hearing.
“A hero’s death, though, to the end. Hector…”
White noise. Words, like silent raindrops, fall
Slow exit. A statue of a king dethroned, he quakes,
Ropes round motionless ankles, marble muscles crack,
Then shatter, raising dirt.
Soundless around him, a million voiceless screams.
They stab his writhing body like spears. You know nothing,
Nothing of pain. Not like him. Tufts of hair in his massive hands,
Redcurrant hair mixed with saltwater and the smell of grief.
Lying in the dust,
The tears carving into his face,
Eyes seeing nothing around him, only Patroclus,
Clawed at, chewed up,
Listening below the bolts of grey sea,
Beautiful Thetis. Weeping for her weeping son.
Lavender fills the nose of her wailing child.
“Why, dear Achilles,” she whispers, by his side.
“Why do you cry?” Nymph fingers glide over strands of brown.
“Patroclus—” he collapses against her knee. Hot, angry rain falls on her skin. Tears until nightfall. “They killed him. Patroclus. He was—he,”
Through hacking, wrenching sobs:
“He took my armour,
Put it on, fooling the Trojans.
And I let him go! He let it reach him,
Eat at his brain, that sweet decay of killing.
I let him go.” His own fists hammering at his body. Reaching for the dagger.
Not unless Hector
That rodent son
Of dribbling Priam,
has his head ripped from his neck,
I’ll tear the sinews clean off.
His family won’t recognize him.
That brat Andromache will weep,
And decrepit Priam will scar his folded face
“But, child, if you are the one to kill him, they will kill you.”
I do not care.
Never again see Patroclus.
No, no, he is dead. Go to thy deathbead.
He will never come again.
“No man escapes the fixèd gaze of sullen Death.”
Thetis looked at her son, his face, his strong shoulders.
“Wait my dear, stay by the beach.
I’ll go to Hephaestus, that lord of fire,
And tell him to forge my son
The finest armour in the Ilium.” Cool lips to warm forehead, and silverfoot Thetis slid away.
You enter, late.
Slide through the door, hope nobody hears as you
Shuffle sideways, scuttle into place like the crab you are.
It’s already started. The footlights in their eyes,
They can’t even see you.
Grand jeté. Arms, legs, fingers tense, poised,
Ready with the spear. Slide the sharpened point between ribs, tearing,
Elegantly, fingertips pull, pull, push-pull, freeing the blade from bloody sinews, still tightly wound.
Victim falls, rolling away to exit up left.
Patroclus, bare toes pivoting on the floor, pirouettes with the knife, arm outstretched,
SCHGLUG. Into the stomach.
Head flicking dizzyingly, spotting his next partner.
Lift! And throw.
Gracefully, a dancer falls.
Crumples, a swan with a broken neck.
An eye rolls forward, but Patroclus’ foot
Doesn’t even touch it, he won’t be tripped.
Wild smile, savage cry,
The rhythmic stabbing into the crowd
Soldiers drop around him,
Peeling away like petals of a cactus flower,
Bloom for a day, then you’re gone, Patroclus.
At least you’ve made your mark.
A forest of arms, heads, hands, feet, legs,
Rooted in the fallen bodies, lifeless skin still sweating under the hot Trojan sun.
Little boy, little boy, Stab the bloodthirsty bastard,
Princip, out to make his name,
End the war.
Drive it, the spear into his spleen
Almost, almost glory.
Run away before he sees who did it.
He stumbles, “It’s over!” “He’s done!”
But it gives a growl, springing back into the fight,
A one-quill porcupine.
Twitch. He’s down. Now’s your chance.
Hector advances, foxtrot to the right, slide under,
Arm flailing, he falters. Unsure.
Looking over, to Sarpedon,
Can you call him that?
Just a mass of dead skin
Stabbed and torn at, devoured as an army of ants crawls desperately over a single crumb.
Anger floods like acid, eating through his bones.
Go, Hector. Stab. Slice. Hack. Blood on your hands
Slippery, red blood trickling like sweat
From your forehead.
Regaining his balance, he leaps,
Sweeping his arm in one perfect arc, spear meets spear,
Straining with the pitiless bronze to tear at each other,
Mangy dogs in the street,
One on top of the other.
Slowly, ease in the blade.
Hector, holding him down with the tips of his fingers,
Stares into wide, scared-rabbit eyes.
“Does it hurt?” He mocks. Lip curls.
“How are you feeling? Dead? You’re dead, Patroclus. It always catches up to you, you see.
Hector killed you. Tell everyone that. I bring death.
I am death.”
“No,” he said, “That’s,”
Last word, spat out with all his strength and clotted crimson lumps:
Blind, Deaf, Hector can only roar,
Ripping the armour off his prey,
Hurling it at the driver,
Leaving the naked corpse.
While Thetis comforts infant Achilles,
Bronze tip arrows.
Dodged by instinct,
Reaching cold hands.
Drag him away! “Drag him away!”
Barely a hesitation. He slaughters Reason,
He can only see Spears,
Spears stained for days
With Greek blood, filthy blood,
Leaving a mass of faceless skin.
“I’ve got him!” the voice of Polydamas accompanies
Buckle under weight,
Expand and drag the dead boy.
Head, gone with one blow.
Stuck on a pole,
Right through the esophagus.
Try and talk now, Patroclus.
Before he can move,
Half-giant Ajax sweeps
Two feet in one great hand.
Low bellow. Almost a word: “Ours.”
“Up, Achilles.” A mist voice whispers, cool spit on rough skin.
“Coward,” it declares.
Hammer to the ice.
Legs like steel springs. Propel him down the track.
A spire on the dune.
Soft stomach, open stomach.
Watch them fight, murderers,
Without you to save them.
They cannot win, for
You cannot help them.
Voice like Tamahay.
Metal clattering stops.
Thump, Thump, Thump.
Fast breath, in-out
Run into the early sunset.
No one saw them drag it away.
“I think,” Polydamas said, “we should retreat.
Achilles’ presence is a sign.
We’ll return to the city,
Behind the wall,
Snarl from Hector.
Strong, rough heels.
Sunk into the sand.
“Are you Greek?
“I have always held your counsel in
Esteem, Hector, but this once—“
We will not be slaves.
We will not be girls.
We will fight. We will win.”
Priam nods. His eyes sweep over us.
Those piercing blue bullets shot from a Derringer .41,
Agreement floods your mind,
You can’t say no.
Hector and Polydamas.
Face to face.
Nose to nose.
Open your eyes. Slide away
From that body-littered beach
Breathe cool winter-mint air as it stings your nose
And see them, controllers of fate.
Golden chairs in a circle. Fire pit, center.
Watch them ignore you.
Clusters of glass houses. Palaces.
Dirty clay hut,
Grey from ash.
One is hiding.
Hammer, metal, fire.
All he needs, he says.
No one comes near,
Not even his wife, no.
She just wants war-gods,
Bodybuilders, wrestlers in spandex.
What good is a cripple to her?
But Thetis, silver gown,
“Hephaestus,”—The massive man looks up from below greasy bangs—
“Can you do me a favor?” Coy smile. Wink.
He trembles, her slender hand running up and down his scarred skin. No reply.
“You see,” Soft. Mouth near burnt ear.
“Achilles needs armour. My son, at Troy.”
Is dead, you know
Mortals—they do that. They get old.
Weak.” Not like you, Hephaestus.
Slim fingers on bulging arms.
Lungs try to open.
“Ok.” Lips almost touch
So close he feels her dewy breath on his hot cheek—
“Thanks, Hephy.” Gone.
He pushes up his flannel sleeves,
Rubs his prickled chin,
Lifts his hammer,