Last December I was asked to write a poem for a series on on Sophocles' Philoctetes. I was excited to be asked and read three different translations of the play which intrigues but is no match for drama of Oedipus, Jocasta and Antigone. I was stumped.
Finally I planted myself at the Mid-Manhattan Library, open to 11 p.m. (at least then it was), wrote and refined--the usual. Then became involved in a ten or so emails back-and-forth with the guest editor (who had come up with the Philoctetes theme and was going to post a poem a day for a month). He was very young and this was his first run at editing.
I trashed my draft and wrote a new poem, trashed that, revamped the original. Writing a poem on a deadline was new to me. Articles, reviews, yes, but a poem?
When my poem was published online, I was bowled over to see no mention of Philoctetes. Instead of telling me the other writers had sent in whatever they wanted the editor had kept up the pretense with me. Man, I'm naive and studious. I posted a comment following the poem with a note about the play. He was furious and said I was insulting his editing. What the . . . !#?!X!
But the poem is fun with its references--my life history in lit--to Buñuel's seared-in-my memory film Simon in the Desert, Penelope in the Odyssey, Laura in The Glass Menagerie, Job. To a Franny & Zooey quote I've remembered since, what, junior high? Of course baby Achilles' pudgy ankle (oh, once it was). And my long-held belief that men would be improved by wearing make-up. Enjoy, PLEASE.
Buñuel's Magic Arrow
Place thumb and forefinger on a baby's ankle. So pudgy!
Obtuse Rex-es and the gods plague my self-esteem.
Hard to keep them separate: gods; Rex-es; me.
Penelope was tricky herself. Laura primped for
genteel callers while a thousand putti wept.
Job loved too much, perhaps, and was bewared of gifts.
Philoctetes needs a good talking to.
I'll escort him to a showing of Simon of the Desert.
Simon stood on a pillar in a bright Bibley landscape.
Philoctetes is a study in shadow puppetry.
A lot of people are forsaken then learn a craft.
The Greeks don't have “that goddam Bide-a-Wee Home
heart of [Franny's]” do they.
Life would be gentler if gentlemen wore make-up.
For the discothèque, St. Simon Stylites and Philoctetes
might rub a Hercules beetle exoskeleton before
its blue is black. Is everything subject to change?