Odyssey

Suppose you didn't hear that Bill Coggers died last night.
Is that right? Just talked to him yesterday.
I asked, 'Do you still have that old flintlock?'
He'd told me it was from Napoleon's time.
Now how would he know a thing like that?

Better to die an old man in your own village
Than to fall fighting in battle.
His comrades protest:
Achilles, you will lose your soul,
You will turn our world upside down
Believing this!
Still, he tells them, better to lie down at home
Than be slain as a king robbed of spoil.

How old was Bill, about fifty?
He showed me an old coin once.
'I paid a hundred dollars for that.' Then he says,
'Do you think it's worth it?'
I said, The way I look at it, Bill,
If it's worth it to you,
It's worth it.

Odysseus rages back:
To live upright you have to shake the fist,
Plunder villages,
Take the sword!
Better to wage war far from home
Than live in peace, with just one piece of gold.
Gold coins surround like sand the man who takes a city.

Old Bill.
Used to work in that factory, remember?
Could hold a janitor job at least.
He lost it, remember,
Took his flintlock to work.
They saw it in his car and fired him.
Probably just looking for an excuse.
Big heart, though.
Used to let school kids hold his rifles.
You couldn't help liking Bill.

To be feared for your sword and bow
Makes the love of one woman sweeter,
Binds her loyalty.
Like an idiot boy breaking open a wasps' nest
Is the man who breaks that truth.
Didn't our king sacrifice his own daughter
To gain fair winds to Troy?
To the field, to the field, before the bed!

Bert Doty felt sorry for him,
Knew he didn't mean anything by that gun.
So he paid Bill to drive him to a restaurant now and then.
Bill didn't mind just waiting.
At least no one thought he minded.
So that was it? Just last night you say?
Just last night. Just heard about it. Found him in a field face down.
Old Bill. Never did much,
But wouldn't hurt a fly. Want to grab coffee?
No, wife's waiting at home
.

I am the man of twists and turnings
Who outwits the gods
Seduces princesses
Entrances with my tales.
For what is a man without a great story?
More useless than a rusting sword.
Forever they will sing of Odysseus,
Who held the world upright
Fighting to his death.