Published on Academy of American Poets (

Air In The Epic

On the under-mothered world in crisis,
the omens agree. A Come herefollows for reader & hero through
the named winds as spirits are
lifted through the ragged colorful o's onbutterflies called fritillarics, tortoise shells &
blues till their vacation settles under
the vein of an aspen leaflike a compass needle stopped in
an avalanche. The students are moving.
You look outside the classroom whereconstruction trucks find little Troys. Dust
rises: part pagan, part looping. Try
to describe the world, you tellthem—but what is a description?
For centuries people carried the epic
inside themselves. (Past the old weatherstripping, a breeze is making some
6th-vowel sounds yyyyyy that will side
with you on the subject of syntaxas into the word wind they
go. A flicker passes by: air
let out of a Corvette tire.)Side stories leaked into the epic,
told by its lover, the world.
The line structure changed. Voices grewto the right of all that.
The epic is carried into school
then to scooped­out chairs. Scratchy holesin acoustic tiles pull whwhoo-- from
paperbacks. There's a type of thought
between trance & logic where teachersrest & the mistake you make
when you're not tired is no breathing.
The class is shuffling, something anisland drink might cure or a
citrus goddess. They were mostly raised
in tanklike SUVs called Caravan orQuest; winds rarely visited them. Their
president says global warming doesn't exist.
Some winds seem warmer here. Some.Warriors are extra light, perhaps from
ponies galloping across the plains.
Iphigenia waits for winds to start. 
Winds stowed in goatskins were meantto be released by wise men:
gusts & siroccos, chinooks, hamsins, whooshes,
blisses, katabatics, Santa Anas, & foehns.Egyptian birds were thought to be
impregnated by winds. The Chinese god
of wind has a red-&-blue caplike a Red Sox fan. Students
dislike even thinking about Agamemnon. You
love the human species when yousee them, even when they load
their backpacks early & check the
tiny screens embedded in their phones.A ponytail hodler switches with light,
beguiled. Iphigenia waits for the good.
Calphas & her father have mistaken theforms of air: Zephyr, Borcas, Eurus
the grouchy east breeze & Notos
bringer of rains. Maybe she cansee bones in the butterfly wings
before they invent the X-ray. Her
father could have removed the sails& rowed to Troy. Nothing makes
sense in war, you say. Throw
away the hunger & the war'sall gone. There's a section between
the between of joy & terror
where the sailors know they shouldn'topen the sack of winds. It
gives the gods more credit. An
oracle is just another nature. There'sa space between the two beeps
of the dump truck where the
voice can rest. Their vowels jointhe names of winds in white
acoustic tiles. A rabbit flies across
the field with Zephyr right behind.Wind comes when warm air descends.
The imagined comes from the imargined.


Brenda Hillman, "Air in the Epic," from Pieces of Air in the Epic, © 2005 by Brenda Hillman. Used by permission of Wesleyan University Press.


Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman is the author of ten poetry collections, including Extra Hidden Life, among the Days (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). She received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 2012 and currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Date Published: 2004-12-31

Source URL: