Also The Mortals Ran

The heroes and their golden arcs
of triumph and laughter
cannot come in here.
Their shoulders are too wide;
their embarassment of riches
too substantial;
their epic songs too loud
to be heard here.
Welcome to the underworld;
the heroes are not invited,
nor possible,
nor heroic.
Here, there are only
the wounded,
the unwise
and the unwieldy.

Those who have been crushed,
been broken by tasks too great,
who failed themselves
and all their people;
Those who aimed at the sun,
but fell to Earth, then deeper still;
Those who were caught out,
got their hand trapped in the door,
missed the vital clue
and slipped on the beanstalk,
the banana skin
or the serpents’ poisoned blood.
Those who didn’t know the answer,
for all the riddle’s clues;
Those who were seduced by fairies
and did not wake up;
Those who did not tie themselves
to the mast,
or were tied, by uncunning hands
and clumsy knots
and fell, cursing, into the sea.

Here we have all the names
that are not heard in songs;
Here we have all the forgotten sons
and daughters,
who did not return and
from whom word was never heard.
The streets were not paved with gold;
there was no golden fleece;
the unicorn was not there;
the giant truly was too large
and too much to handle.
The rooms of this place
are stacked with broken swords
and crushed skulls,
ankles twisted at wrong moments,
fingers snagged on clothing
and second-rate shields
split by the first-rate weapons
of too many foes.
Luck was not on their side,
and not enough back-up
arrived too late
to help them.
It was just another day
for their enemies.

The weary and the crippled;
the lost and the unloved;
the unshining, undazzling,
the almost-adequate
and the woefully inept
(though not those whose lack
is legendary and have sneaked
into fame through infamy.)
Those whose feet slipped,
stepping from boat to shore;
Those whose sword-hand
wilted with fear,
whose determination
was lost in a bottle
or a bed,
whose allies were
badly-chosen
and left them to burn
in the dragon’s cave,
divided up the gold
and all the fame
themselves.

Here we don’t have
Hercules,
Odysseus
or Gilgamesh;
Here we have
those who thought that
Icarus was a good
role-model for success,
those who thought that
dragons were smaller,
gorgons more susceptible
to flattery,
giants clumsier
and fire not quite
as hot
as the stories tell…

Their songs were not tuneful;
their stories were artless
and badly told;
their battles were messy,
simply skirmishes in the war;
their love-affairs were quick
gropes in the dark and
dissatisfaction and a stain
here and there;
no demigods were born
of their unions.
Their great declarations
were made whilst drunk
and quickly forgotten,
or never heard,
for the din of the bar
around them.

Their names are not written.
Their deaths are recorded in lists
and tally charts;
Their monuments are empty spaces,
the thread of grief in another
unrecorded life;
They are the food of Death,
not glory.
Distracting fate with their blundering,
their tasks were immaculately served.
Without them,
the heroes would not stand
a chance.

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3 thoughts on “Also The Mortals Ran

  1. “They are the food of Death,
    not glory.”

    In one sentence you have me. In one poem you have sung my epic. I am not a hero, nor was meant to be… But, in my dreams I have been greater and grander, the night giving me my glories until the doltish day broke in with mocking laughter.

  2. I read your poem “Hermes’ Shadow” in the farewell edition of the “Journal of Mythic Arts” and was deeply impressed. Now I stumbled over your blog via “The Hermitage”.

    I wanted to let you know that this poem resonated deeply with me.

    It reminds me of how much I want, of how little I can accomplish. Of all the cruel and bizarre failures that litter the way of most people. Of the ossuaries at Verdun full of “heroes”… who mainly just stumbled along.

    You show the cruel humour of life and the harsh peace of death.

    But most of all, I feel that this poem breathes compassion.

    Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  3. Pingback: Stephantasy

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