Martin Burke- Interlude with the Iliad

Digital StillCameraMartin Burke was born in Limerick. Burke is a long term resident of Flanders where he is active as poet and playwright (and sometimes actor) and from where he has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Belgium -the latest work being BLAKE/LONDON/BLAKE published by the Feral Press, New York


Bright sky breaks through dark clouds -morning as I imagine it in the Iliad
Here however there is no battle except in my blood where white cells vie with red
(Is red the color of Homer? The color of every story that tells itself?)
Bright sky and the heart is light as shades pass before me
For a story told once is never enough where it must be re-told because we recognize ourselves among its pages
Or recognize something other than ourselves that is inviting, mesmerizing, and all the qualities an inert age is not
As traffic passes my door like the chariots of the Greeks on their way to Troy

Books are mirrors
Recognize yourself in an off-hand gesture, find aspects of yourself you were not aware of
Meanwhile reports come in of the battle and the blood count –the medication doing its work as hoped for
Where yesterday  it was hard not to draw a comparison between the doctor’s smile and what Helen might have looked like in her heyday
Pure speculation, more the working of my mind than any actuality, the book prompting parallels in every occasion
However the blood count this time was not of slaughter that would make the evening news
I was one of many in the waiting room, the number I was given was 47, (a  rank and file digit)
And then I was in the cool room where she waited and I waited to hear what she would say
Good news, even if I was still on stand-by
Standing down to walk in the day outside and morning’s brightness in which the pills were my ally
As if my bones were worth saving for the moment so that I could be called on later

That’s the way my mind works, seeing myself as part of two worlds
Seeing what I am but also what I might be or might have been when at every moment Homer is as real as any tangibility of the day
Outside the hospital I stood for a smoke (I shouldn’t but four a day is what I allow myself) and walked towards the city centre to have a morning coffee
And it’s either synchronicity or coincidence but the Café I stopped at was the Executioner’s House
Where I sat in the shade and though about Achilles

He’s superb of course, righteous even, but also deeply disturbing in being so perfect a killing machine
He’s like a Zen master in battle who sees his target and goes for it, allowing nothing  to stand in his way
His sense of himself heightened by every encounter as he goes from victim to victim unstoppable as a juggernaut
Feeding off the moment as if he were satisfying himself at an after-battle party
Hard not to admire him but hard not to draw back from the off-hand, casual manner in which he brings death
Like white cells and red cells -and which will have the upper hand for I’m no Achilles
Where I have the ease of morning to slip into whereas he had his Mother’s armor
Homer makes him beautiful but such ruthlessness is troubling to our world where there are too many street-clashes and chemical attacks to make battle seem beautiful
And it would be the foolhardy poet who would somehow link the Iliad to Egypt and Syria

Foolhardy? It would be obscene
Nothing glorious about what’s going on there
Nothing that beautifies the lives we lead, nothing that adds to life in any appealing manner
The cry for bread and justice storms the gates of heaven but…..
And more news comes in
And my anger rises
And I wish for some hero to emerge from the smoke and set the whole thing right
But my wishes are the smoke I must emerge from
No hero –not as I sit in morning’s brightness while others are claiming justice is bread and cannot be lived without
So, is Achilles anger justified or he is merely sulking in his tent?
When Patroclus comes and begs to take his place how culpable is he in his friend’s death?
Culpability –Hamlet’s question– and mine, for what have I done that undoes me as the medication works to undo what has been done?
Anger is a bad instructor but Achilles lets it master him and calls for retribution as much as he calls for any rectification
As much as he wants that woman back he wants to humiliate the king -which is Agamemnon’s intention regarding Troy
Helen’s an excuse -a good one, but an excuse
And if Achilles is culpable what of Agamemnon in marrying her to his sickly brother who could never fulfill the expectations of this superb woman?
Break Troy, burn the very stones it’s built on, destroy what he calls an historical abortion and be master of the world about him –that’s his aim
For the moment of course nothing is going his way and he knows it
The Trojans have Hector and are impudent, the lines are not holding, the ships are in danger and he must act
Goes against his grain to have to do what he must do but he’ll do it because he sees the bigger picture
Achilles can have the woman (no use pretending he can’t) the only thing that matters is the timing and the setting
Must appear magnanimous, must appear kingly, must appear as if he is the wronged one setting matters right for the sake of Greece
Do it in the right way and he’ll be the victor and Achilles will fight and that will be the end of Troy
Timing and scheming -if there’s one thing he’s good at it’s that

How easy to lose yourself in Homer’s pages and forget the day about you
Good coffee in sunshine replaces a battle and the tourists on the streets of Gent are no one but themselves
I reread the bulletin where the cells are held at stable numbers and the defense line is holding
It’s cat and mouse -or cat and bird the way my cat toyed with a half-dead starling until I intervened and was culpable
Death, you can’t escape it -red cells bleeding and white cells attacking and you are back in Homer where the issue is survive and kill
It should be more than that –and is on this spectacular morning of sunshine and shadows
That which is superb is living -I see it in the verse and chapter of his hand, I see it in the starling’s speckle
I see it in the will to live and the casualness of tourists who have come to my city not to destroy but to be enamored -and are
As I always am whenever I walk under this or any sky the day is covered with
And street-battles seem six thousand miles away and for the moment not my concern

And so the book goes on and the sky goes on, and the parallels will last as long as there are readers
Homer’s hand weaves the day and we are inheritors
Under startling sunshine –is it Flanders or Greece?- I make my way along the crowded quays.

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