The student who asks for an explanation
has blue eyes and an oval face
and a voice that implies—
in addition to what it requests—
I just can't understand anything
unless someone alive explains it.
Because I want to believe myself alive
I recount the ancient story—
Thetis gripping her young son's heel
to dip his body head-first into the river Styx,
goddess neglecting then to dip the heel,
so that eventually he'll die
from a wound in that only vulnerable spot,
arrow released from the bow of Paris,
that other heel.
But she doesn't smile,
probably doesn't yet quite get it,
so I tell her how human fallibility
must somehow be accounted for,
how when my brother lay groaning
after a hemorrhoidectomy,
his dark eyes asking the ceiling Why?
I told him that our mother
dipped him newborn
into a Kansas equivalent of the river Styx,
then like Thetis neglected to make immune
that portion of the anatomy she suspended
And he didn't smile,
so while I had him captive and inert
I explained the ins and the outs
of classical irony,
how a woman though a goddess
had a fallen memory,
how Achilles though clad in first-rate armor
died dead as a stone at the hand
of a third-rate warrior.
The student with the blue eyes and oval face
closes the blue eyes, nods the oval face.
Is she asleep or thinking deeply? No matter:
when she returns already I have moved
to the death of Hector, his body
dragging an oval
outside the beleaguered walls of Troy,
Achilles riding high and for the moment
invincible in the saddle of his chariot,
sword raised and silver
against a slant of blinding
but universal sun.
by William Kloefkorn