Patric Pepper

Prince Valiant

Sunday morning, January 7, 2018, in my bathrobe,
my new titanium and plastic knee packed with ice.
I sip a cup of tea and sit with you in my hands.
I read “the funnies” as we used to call them,
though you were never funny I seem to remember.
Was it 30 years ago? The last time I checked in?
Val? May I call you Val?
                                        In the title frame
you and your companions drift on your raft
through murky caverns, an underground tributary
that opens out, at last, into the world, onto the
Great Yinchu River. With rest and salix extract,
you have finally regained your vitality, and
your daughter, Karen, is perhaps sweet on Vanni,
who also knows about healing herbs and such.
Raven suddenly alights, and Karen locks eyes
with Raven, as steering the raft Bukota grins,
“Why, Karen is telling Raven to let her mother
know that we are all well
                                         and coming home!”

Home! Home! I want to come home, like you, Val.
You have given me vitality, just as I have renewed
your life by reading your “comic strip,” my Prince!

And next Sunday, if I choose to check in again
after 30 years and a week?
                                          “Next: Beyond the sea.”
I want to come home, Val, beyond the sea.


He orders himself to be lashed to the mast, to hear the Sirens’ peculiar 
voice of “home.”
                            I admire him. Almost like him, butcher
that he is in this his epic, as if I envisage my would-be self in a mirror.

I read in bed by electric light, sickened to recall Troy: Odysseus,
mire-bespattered, blood-encrusted mother lion of the Achaeans.
He chased the Trojans down and feasted on their entrails.
                                                                                            That’s right,
Mother Lion, who kills and feeds the males as they destroy each other.
Achilles whines.
                            Agamemnon roars.
                                               But Odysseus, besotted with love of gore
and glory, rages ready to be himself devoured,
                                                                           should life come to that.

But Mother Lion? Yes.
                         And I do like his crew—shipload of ordinary killers, ears
plugged against the lying sea nymphs’ song, You’re  home! O, Ithaca!

Soldier-sailors who cinched their guide, their lifeline, tighter to the mast
when he ordered, Untie me, boys! We are home now. O, Ithaca!
Men like me, 
                       who don’t know their fate, yet unknowingly almost know
they are, as if in fact, already home in their own warm beds reading
of heroes tonight.
                             Home in their hungry bodies as they pull the oars.
Home as their king babbles on.
                                                   Home with each other, sailing their mum
toward Helios,
                        where, against orders, they will feast on the Sun’s cattle—
so Zeus may fairly slaughter them, and move His epic forward
                                                                                                     toward Ithaca.

Patric Pepper is the author of Temporary Apprehensions, winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House poetry prize (2004), and two poetry chapbooks. His work has appeared most recently in, or is forthcoming from, Poetry X Hunger, The Northern Virginia Review, Okay Donkey Magazine, and The Sunlight Press. Pepper lives in Washington, D.C.



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