A Poem by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
after Romare Bearden’s painting “Odysseus Rescued by Sea Nymphs”
How many sat underwater,
entangled by myth’s past tense,
before Neptune first raised his
beard in the direction of Ethiopia,
and after, Odysseus—
was saved by Homer’s tablet?
Centuries after that story was written,
in the land of Not Make Believe,
a crew of slave-ship sailors
threw one hundred and thirty-two
Africans into the Atlantic Ocean.
Heave-ho to souls.
And people. And laws. And kin.
But Odysseus lives. He always will,
Our Great White Hope—
before whiteness was invented—
this hero who longs for the wood’s sway.
Despite his tendency to chase tail—
sirens and sundry other
I want to be happy that Homer imagined
a sea housing pretty, forgiving Nymphs—
while somewhere else, a wheel dances
and someone else drowns.
Sharks should pass Odysseus by,
never imagining his taste.
The gods shouldn’t pull at his fate—
now angry, now benevolent.
I try hard not to blame that man:
We all deserve our Maker’s love.
From The Age of Phillis by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. Used with the permission of Wesleyan University Press. Copyright © 2020 by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers.