they took his dad’s boat away
after Pearl, when everybody from Seattle
to San Diego was running scared
no wops in San Fran Bay, can’t trust
nobody not even the fisherman whose
kid turned out to be the best slugger
alive so Giuseppe you stay at home
nights don’t go too far don’t try
anything you can dream of Sicily if you want that’s okay
but keep your nose clean and Joe
you keep swingin’ for the fences just
in khakis now feel that cool
Hawaii sand have a beer live it
up as much as any soldier
boy can don’t fret over
Monte Cassino up in smoke
typhus in the Napoli water
your papa showing his papers
back in the batting cage Mister
Fifty-Six Hit Streak don’t
complain we are all in cages
At first, he exulted in his smallness
and the chances it gave for mischief.
A speck of a Hermes, a pocket Anansi,
he made off with coins and secrets –
spelunking through keyholes, abseiling
down table legs, dancing the occasional
jig in a dozing sow’s ear. Nothing
was unreachable. At night, beside
the fire, he would tell his parents dreamily
how a fly’s eye is really a million
close-set jewels, how it tickled
to walk barefoot on a fern frond.
If sometimes he must cross swords
with rats or bullfrogs, why complain?
Such was the stuff of epic.
But from the shadows he saw
his mother’s hand shake as she measured
his thimble-full of brandy. He saw
his father, grey hairs flecking brown,
stoop to yoke the oxen and stagger
beneath the weight. Their voices
carried through the timbers and shook
him as they traded blame, cursed
each other for their hasty wish.
Retreating to his nutshell bed,
he held his knees tight against his chest
and dreamed he was a giant.
She was born a mere ghost
of a tritagonist, thin
her siblings’ blazing pas de deux.
Beneath their wails, the usual
hair-pulling and breast-
rending, you could hear her
timid goldfinch voice
offer dollops of reason, like
cough syrup to children. No,
Electra, that’s not the Furies calling,
just an owl up too early.
No, Orestes, you shouldn’t go
around telling people
you were dragged to death in Locris.
Axes – remember, dears –
are meant for splitting wood, not
But just as no one blesses
the dirt for holding up
their feet, no oxen fall
slain at the tombs of the sensible:
it’s the broken we remember.
Freud filled journals with
lurid tales of sex-crazed daddy’s
girls, while countless good
fearing (not without cause)
a life lived invisible
would end in the drawing-room
wallpaper swallowing them
whole, never dreamed
they were in the grip
of an undiagnosed Chrysothemis Complex.
I once saw the Chrysothemis of Richard
Strauss, a redoubtable mezzo,
slip and fall on her tailbone during
the curtain call, her bare feet
slick with fake blood
that had run in streams, minutes
earlier, down the palace
steps. Even as she struggled
back up to the tune of
chuckles from the dark,
I knew it was right,
the only proper ending, really.
No doubt when the curtain fell,
she – spare tire of the House
of Atreus – surveyed
the mess of vengeance spent,
and, with a little rueful grin,
got to work mopping up.
Thomas Keith is originally from Austin, TX, but currently resides in Chicago. He has work published or forthcoming in Westview, Poetry Salzburg Review, Pudding Magazine, storySouth, Old Red Kimono, Packingtown Review, and Blue Unicorn. A classicist by training, he has translated much Greek and Latin poetry into modern English verse, including Euripides’ tragedy Andromache.