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Poetry: Envy of Poets 

Envy of Poets
After Robert Hass

In one legend, Odysseus filled a bottle with song, wrote
poems on snippets of paper, then took the sun-drenched
glass and sealed the top with cork. Unopened molten-music

rose and settled to the bottom. When he tossed this vessel
of disclosure, words he had withheld from his wife, he soothed

himself, lashed as he was to the mast, with the lullabies
of birdsong, gulls and terns echoing against the wind-swept
cliffs. It was a myth that sirens couldn’t speak. Jealous

sailors wavered back and forth on muteness, a woman unable
to give voice for months at a time on a journey might

be thought a blessing by some.  And so, Odysseus was relieved
of his burden of words, replaced as it was with longing, a hunger
for a glimpse of his faithful wife and her sacred chanting

as she turned sweet-cod to make it hum-sizzle on a skillet’s
black tongue. Sirens lounging on the rocks, plaiting each

others hair, snatched his bottle bobbing in the waves
to unleash all those pent-up words he had pushed down
to the bottom. Then seeing him in his cobwebbed trance, greeted

him with his own words back “You are my precious pearl,
my doe-skin scalloped purse.” Thus they repeated until distracted

by the steady silver-bells of rain, they swam to a cave to take cover
lest they waste their music on a storm and not an envious traveler
who couldn’t be tempted into madness, into poetry.

—Laurie Byro

Speaking of...

  • A poem by Laurie Byro


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