To my father
It was strange when old Ulysses
came back to that stretching ocean.
He saw its tossing, violent motion
and remembered how harsh the seas
had treated him, and yet his devotion
was unmoved – he must return.
I, his son, had already dived,
and caught in its grip, writhed
and thrived and laughed and turned:
it is easy for one as young as I.
My father, Ulysses, told me once
that ten years old he’d braved
channels: their currents graves
for any unwary swimmers: ‘Pure chance’
he’d often say, ‘that I was saved.’
He stands on the edge, cold splutters
lapping at his feet, a numb mockery.
The scars across his sunken belly
tell his adventures: he’s been gutted,
twice, and still survives to comfort me.
I stretch out a hand to help him.
His look is thunder: ‘I do this alone!’
Thinner, greyer, but still my very own
Ulysses, he walks into the swirling –
‘Cold,’ he says, ‘cold to the bone!’
Despite his shaking, a smile seeps
across his face. The eyes gleam,
and blazing through scar’s seams
and old troubles, comes a leap
of joy. Half a laugh, half a scream,
issues from his mouth, as fearless
my father raises up his hands in triumph,
and vaunts to the waves that slump
at his regeneration. Momentarily peerless,
he shouts the sea silent. Then answering, it trumpets
recognition that the Wandering Lord, Ulysses,
has come home, returned vivified
to the vengeful ocean that so long tried
his spirit. In the embrace of the sea,
he is lifted up, and remembers: he is unafraid.