James Sale Poetry

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Ulysses Returns

 

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.


Joseph Sale