William Koch


draper_odysseus_sirens

“Odysseus und die Sirenen” (1909) by Herbert James Draper

Rage; I Sing of Arms

The rage, sing Goddess, of Achilles

–First line of The Iliad

I sing of arms and a man

–First line of The Aeneid

How the Muses have treated us.
They:
Sing of rage, then ragers.
Sing of weapons, then men.

How much weight
Carries this ‘then’?
‘Then’ heroes follow after
The fixtures of their fate.

We are always vanishing
In the folds of our feelings
And the armor that we wear.
All except one.

How does it go?
That story between
The rage of Achilles
And the weaponry of Aeneas?

It begins like this:
“The man,
To me tell Muse,
Of many-turnings.”

Of course Odysseus’
Story would open
With the call to hear
Of man, not raging arms.

For in this story
The man never appears.
He need not be enfolded.
‘Many-turnings’ enfold themselves.

The story of the liar,
The actor, master of disguise,
Should begin with a call for man.
A rich irony.

The poet calls for the story
Of a man
And the Muse gives a story
Of masks and ‘many-turnings’.

But that other disappearance
Behind Achilles behind his rage,
And Aeneas behind his arms,
And Odysseus’ ever non-appearance,

Hovers over the poem
Everywhere and nowhere
Like a breath on the waters.
Whose ‘many-turnings’?

Fingers weave, unweave, thread.
Creating, uncreating,
A veil destined
Never to conceal or reveal.

She, Penelope
She, Calypso
She, Circe
Turning, turning, the man.

She, Muse
Who never appears,
Who speaks, not accidentally,
Through the medium of a man.

This arrangement has,
Perhaps, suited
None of us
Well.

She, he, we.
The speechless speakers
The formless voices
The nameless warriors.

So many specters
Without even a decent death
To be avenged
Or a prophecy to intone.

It is not, then,
How the Muses have treated us.
Rather, perhaps, how poetry
Has ravaged all alike.

Woman and man,
Twisted threads in the loom,
Weaving about each other
Our many abuses. Misuses.

The poem begins wrong.
With the pernicious ambiguous ‘we’.
The call for man from woman.
Manifestation only of rage and arms.

I think we need a new poem.
I just don’t know
How it should begin.

OdysseusPenelopePrimaticcio

“Odysseus and Penelope”  (1563) Francesco Primaticcio

The Muses of Poets

The Muses sing;
Sing of flowers and spaces
Rich with fullness and things tragically sweet.
This is not the song I want.

Muses sing: Yes, give me your decadent plush songs
But more I want a song of desolation
A stretching void of light and heat
A tannish yellow tallow bed of wax
Over which the sun passes as candle flame
Hidden in its own scolding brightness.

This is the true arena of the soul,
The mind’s true landscape.
Airy uplands devoid of breeze
The light of Reason blinding
As the skin cracks and the lips chap.
This is the expanse of time,

The reaches of space unnumbered,
Where alone poets can ruminate
And whisper to the emptiness
Of dreams that don’t come
And visions bearing blank screens.

A writer’s best friend is the empty page,
That which haunts him at night
And when filled declares him a fool.
Great musicians dream of silence,
Poets, the day when all the words
At last are said.
A heavy burden writhes in their dreams;
Leagues of white paper to fill
Pauses to orchestrate
Canvases screaming for paint,
While the shapers moan in their sleep
And invoke from the Muses
A desolation.

Memory Piece 1

The first day I wandered
Young and alone
To the lake near my home…
A fence divided a dead end road
From the grass of the lake side
And the great tree
In whose arms I would grow up
Still stood then.
Another fence
Down around the hidden lake edge
Divided
The empty grass
From a field full of flowers
Wild and yellow
And small twisted cherry trees
In blossom, pink clouds
Above the yellow sea.
I didn’t know the flowers
For dandelions, weeds.
(I brought home my mother
A burgeoning bouquet.)
There is something about
Those roads that taper off
Shattered and broken at the end
Into grass.
The edge of humanity’s might
As if the flat earthers were right
You can drop off the end of the world.
Take the road to the end.
There will be one small metal fence
Then a void of yellow and pink blossoms.
And there they make no distinction
Between flowers and weeds.


 William Koch has a Ph.D. in philosophy, which he teaches at the college level. His research and writing focuses primarily upon the work of Martin Heidegger and the philosophy of art. He is the author of a chapter exploring the literature of Jean Genet as an example of art which affects changes to social traditions and behaviors entitled “Jean Genet, Butler and Dreyfus: A Case Study of the Artist’s Explication and Alteration of Social Practice” which will be published in the upcoming book Painting Mirrors: Essays on the Artist as Observer and Social Critic. Visit William’s blog