Philoctetes, Long Afterward

By Ryan Wilson

They’re nice to me, I guess,
These ghosts who never quite know what to say,
Having lived out meaningless
Lives here in Thessaly. They fear each day
That they have been somehow defrauded,
But bring me my Dilaudid
Out on this sunny terrace anyway

In their soft shoes and scrubs.
They putter forward into their futures while
Helping us into tubs
Or pushing Lethean pills to coax a smile
From us, who see, played on these plains
Once more, our ancient pains,
The green a stage that holds Troy’s burning pile.

It’s like some movie set,
This hospice. We’re the actors; they’re the crew.
They bring our Percocet
And coffee, do the lights. What do we do?
We act like we are still the men
We were, in that time when
Our lives still mattered. Could be worse. It’s true

Time’s poison ravages
The body, but what are gout and diabetes
To one who knows what he is,
What he was? What can they be to Philoctetes?
I am the man who slaughtered Paris
For his crime, here, on a terrace
In a wheelchair, dribbling milk from soggy Wheaties,

Browbeaten by these ghosts
Who’ve never lived. Here’s the survivor’s fate.
And always with the ghosts . . .
My own dead friend came to equivocate
For Pyrrhus and Odysseus,
And he made such a fuss
That I slouched off to fight for men I hate.

For what? Lo! My reward
For saving the Achaeans with my bow?
Great Agamemnon, Lord
Of Men, long dead; Achilles, too, laid low,
And no one cares what they debated
Or how, manipulated,
I left where Lemnos’ sleepy breezes blow

As soft as Mother Peace
Upon the fevered brow of her sick child,
Who’s sick with the disease
Of life. They could have left me in the wild
Where I’d hobble from my quiet cave
Like Lazarus from the grave,
My dying and my living reconciled

As in an afterlife
I could not end, since ending it would mean
Another afterlife.
I’ve never seen such darkly brilliant green . . .
Living on bread the ravens brought
And the few fish I caught . . .
Things I’d ignored for years took on the sheen

Of jeweled seas at noon,
The deep-down stir of things made evident
While I lay in a swoon
On the stone ledge above a forest, bent
Over a sprig of thyme, white-capped,
As if some breaker lapped
Within the limestone shelf its growth had rent.

The changeful days were changeless,
And I was most alive when numbered dead,
When the unexpected angels
Of daily observation crowned my head
As mayflies form a halo over
A lily in the clover
Nobody’s ever seen. But now, instead

Of that, the TV blares,
I email different people. Memory fades.
We’re dying. No one cares.
They feed us burnt steaks. We wield plastic blades,
And wish we’d known the naïve joy
Of those love felled at Troy,
Who don’t now live as shades among the shades.