Odysseus at the Mast

They lashed him halfway up the mast
And he screamed above the silent oarsmen
As they rowed him relentlessly away
From the bone-cluttered island shore of the Sirens
Sitting in the flowers singing unearthly promise.

            They saw the ship go by,
            and the madman raving there.
            One of them stood up,
            still singing, and made gestures
            with her aching body, using
            hands between thighs, showing
            as well as singing.
            The ship went on by wind and oars.
            The voices faded.
            They shrugged, sucked their sharp teeth,
            and went back to their flowers.

His anxious men, blessed with the silence
Of the blind, saw only the soundless agony
As he fought the bonds of the rigid mast
For the vision the Sirens never dreamed
In a word that faded for ever as he moved

Through life after life in the ship at the mast
And his screaming for release, ceased.
They lowered him down among their flesh
And he mastered again his own flesh and his ship
And remembered, once, an impotent whim for mutiny.

From From a Person Sitting in Darkness: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 1998) by Gerald Barrax. Copyright © 1998 by Gerald Barrax. Used with the permission of Louisiana State University Press.