Odysseus by Michael L. Utley

Figures in robes walking through the sand dunes towards the setting sun
Image Source: Canva Pro

I saw Odysseus sprawled on the sidewalk between

The squalid little deli and the boarded-up

All-night video place whose weather-stained

Posters advertised GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS

Amid obtuse indecipherable graffiti and

A fallen constellation of multi-hued shards of

Broken glass that crunched underfoot like

Bone fragments

The patina of snow about him

Pristine in its absence of footprints from

Passers-by as if the stench of his

Existence had formed an unseen barrier  

A half-moon DMZ buffering

His world from ours

And ours from his

And seemed to accelerate those who passed

As if sling-shotting them along their snowy

Midnight trajectories by means of his own

Anomalous gravity

And he was invisible

This shivering, coughing Odysseus

This Odysseus of ancient rheumy eyes and

Filth-caked garb of indeterminate color and

Dirty twitching fingers destroyed by age and arthritis

That latched onto

Nothingness in the inhuman chill

Of this strange distant land

Far from home

I saw Odysseus standing on the corner

Across from the new shopping mall with

Hundreds of stores and a garish

GRAND OPENING FREE HOT DOGS

WIN A NEW TOYOTA TRUCK

Sign filling up half the blazing summer sky

The color of which no one noticed as they

Funneled mindlessly into the parking lot of sticky asphalt

Eager to rid themselves of their wealth

Like lemmings compelled by the inexorable call

Of the briny deep

This sun-stroked Odysseus’ sign

Garnered far less attention

WILL WORK FOR FOOD

And like some weird contrary magnetism it

Served only to avert the eyes of eager shoppers

Whose cash-bulging wallets held no alms

This day or any other day for anyone

With the temerity the gall the nerve

To spoil the festive mood of capitalism

And he was invisible

This gaunt, silent Odysseus

This Odysseus of haunted eyes the shade of

Tortured youth and abandonment

An aura about him that described an intimate ken

Of the black brackish hearts of fathers

Who show their children love by means of

The belt the closed fist the bruise the shattered bone

His outstretched hand unseen, voided

In the swelter and exhaust fumes

Of this strange distant land

Far from home

I saw Odysseus posed beneath the arc-sodium glare

Of streetlights in stilettos and not much else

As vehicles prowled the night like hungry panthers

Purring as they edged up to the curb to test their prey

Whose prayers, if any, went unanswered day by day

Whose god was the black tar of forgetfulness

Purchased nightly with the currency of her body

And she leaned hesitantly into the maw of the predator

A deal done through open-windowed anonymity

Then undone moments later amid an avalanche

Of raucous laughter and filthy epithets

As the panther sprang from the curb in search of other prey

Stranding her alone in the antiseptic wash

Of the indifferent streetlights that left her feeling

All the more dirty

And she was invisible

This trembling, empty Odysseus

This Odysseus of painted eyes the shame of which

No amount of camouflage could veil

The craving in her veins an all-out roar

Obliterating everything

Tears gone eons ago

Fear driving her like some twisted dynamo

Toward the blackness of the next fix

Or the grave

In this strange distant land

Far from home

I saw Odysseus pronated on the center stripe

Of a dark desert highway

Leather-gloved hands folded neatly on leather-clad breast

As four cops stood chatting idly above him like distracted pallbearers

His motorcycle a hundred feet away in a thousand pieces

His helmet still attached and useless

As the shield of a fallen warrior

A mere formality at this point

The silent ambulance en route with idiot lights flashing

To scoop this thing off the road and deposit it

Somewhere else

And he was invisible

This stilled, hushed Odysseus

This Odysseus of black leather and broken body

Who would soon cease to be a nuisance to the cops

And become a nuisance to the coroner

And then to the earth itself

And then forgotten

Just some meaningless blip on the back page

Of the next day’s paper where the anonymous

Go to die

In this strange distant land

Far from home

I have seen Odysseus at the hospital stitched with tubes

A human loom

I have seen Odysseus in the dim hallways of high school

Eyes glued to the floor in a gauntlet of cat-calls

I have seen Odysseus unconscious in the shade of an oak in the city park

Reeking of cheap booze and excrement

I have seen Odysseus on dusty shoulders of forgotten highways

Faded signs in hand that say Albuquerque or Denver or Phoenix

I have seen Odysseus in the bleachers of baseball games

On county road crews in supermarkets in churches

In unemployment lines in bars in prisons

In the mirror

Everywhere I look he is there

Trying to find his way back

In this strange distant land

Far from home

-MICHAEL L. UTLEY

Mike is a deaf writer/photographer who lives in rural southwest Colorado, USA.  His love of nature shines through his poetry and photography, both of which he uses to make sense of his world.

Please visit Silent Pariah to read and view more of his wonderful work.

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46 Comments Add yours

  1. This is amazing, Michael. Wow. 💕💕💕

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks so much, my friend. I’m always humbled by your support–it truly means the world to me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Always a pleasure, dear Mike.💕

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What an Odysseus of a poem, Michael. Excellent portrayal of the arduous journey to embrace remnants of life, the outcome of which leaves much to be desired most of the time. A winner of a poem. Congratulations!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thank you, Shobana, for such a kind and thoughtful comment. You described the essence of this piece perfectly. We’re all searching, and there’s no guarantee we’ll ever make it back home again. This poem is for all the forgotten people who have lost their way. Here’s wishing for hope, peace and restoration for all us who find ourselves on that loneliest of journeys. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, you said it so well. You are most welcome, Michael.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. jonicaggiano says:

    What a most beautifully written prose/story Michael. You have covered the pages of MasticadoresIndia with images of our world, the ugliness of it, through the eyes of Odysseus (love that you made this hero a woman) as she returns. It immediately made me think of how many soldiers must feel after losing their men and returning home. What a brilliant rendering of the Greek demi-god’s visuals. So much sadness and heartbreak to see. So wonderful to read your lovely work here again. Congratulations on an exceptional piece of writing. Hugs Joni (Love the photo Terveen picked)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Many thanks, Joni. I believe this poem speaks for all of us. It certainly holds deeply personal meaning for me. It’s so easy to wander off the path and find ourselves lost in the dark woods or the desolate sands, whether by events outside of our control or by our own hand. Seeing these people, whether it’s on the sidewalk or in the mirror, is evidence that life is difficult and messy and tragic and painful. So many of us are lost and forgotten, and it’s terrifying to experience that black, abject fear and loneliness. Thanks so much for your kind words, my friend. And yes, I agree–Terveen’s image choices are spot-on (thanks, Terveen!). 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. jonicaggiano says:

        So true, my friend, we all have our stories and life is so tragic in many ways. Loneliness is one of the hardest things to endure as we all literally require human contact to thrive. I really enjoyed your piece. Big hugs 🤗 my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Your poem in story is so powerful and sad at the same time. Artfully thread with brilliant vocabulary to paint this picture of desolate days and nights that only those who have walked in these shoes truly can comprehend. Congratulations on this piece of work penned from your heart and soul that moves mountains in heats and your gorgeous photography and even choice of yours at canva pro even if it wasn’t one of yours.. lol 🤣
    Truly magnificent my friend! ❣️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks, Cindy. You’re too kind, my friend! I truly appreciate your generous praise. This one is for all the lost and forgotten people (and I count myself among them). I hope at some point we all realize that everyone matters, everyone has value, and we’re all in this together. As for the accompanying image, Terveen worked her magic as always and found one that fits. 🙂 Thanks again for your wonderful support. Much appreciated. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s my pleasure Mike… most deserved and I am so with you on this.. I hope as well. We all are internal parts of the world. You work well together as a team! 🥰

        Liked by 1 person

  5. gwengrant says:

    What a great poem!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Gwen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks so much for such a nice comment, Gwen! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this piece. Much appreciated. 🙂

      Like

  6. Michele Lee says:

    An epic and intriguing poem!
    This line stood out to me: “As if sling-shotting them along their snowy…”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks, Michele. I’ve always been struck by how people generally tend to do everything they can to avoid being anywhere near homeless people, and that line sort of exemplifies their cruel avoidance. They seem to speed up in order to get away as soon as possible, shooting past them like an errant satellite that has broken free of its orbit. It’s terribly heartbreaking. It seems like homeless people are merely statistics and are rarely seen as humans. The homeless issue is very near to my heart. One mistake, one error in judgment, one unexpected catastrophe and any one of us could be that old man on the snowy midnight sidewalk, watching people shoot past him on their own snowy trajectories…

      Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment. Truly grateful for your presence here, Michele. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Michele Lee says:

        You are welcome, Mike. It is very sad, and you are right, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I wrote some poems about this topic a while back.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Terveen Gill says:

    Michael’s poetry reflects beauty, truth, and the plight of human existence. So many live in the shadows of suffering barely managing to make it through each day, manipulating their own thoughts and feelings to numb the pain that is their constant companion. Where’s the fairness? Why do some have it worse than others? A journey that unfolds with each breath, the pursuit of finding a home where space isn’t the issue but understanding and compassion is.
    Congratulations Michael!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks so much, Terveen. This piece holds deep meaning for me. Much like the people in this poem, I’ve felt like merely a statistic for much of my life, whether it was because I wasn’t the “right” religion growing up, or because I’m deaf in a hearing world or because I deal with major depression daily, among other reasons. People have a tendency to dehumanize others who don’t fit into convenient little boxes, and once a person becomes dehumanized, that person is easily tossed away because he has no value as a human being anymore. These folks become the invisible, forgotten people, and they exist along the periphery of “normal” society. Shadows…specters…ghosts… We all matter, every one of us. Our differences should be celebrated and embraced. We are all our brothers’ keepers. We’re all in this together.

      Thank you for publishing this poem, Terveen. My hope is that it has the power to wake people up to the suffering of others. There’s very little preventing any of us from being the homeless person on the street, watching as everyone passes us by. I’m truly grateful for your support. And your image choice is perfect! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Holy Moly. That was intense and absolutely riveting! I don’t think I took a breath throughout. My heart was in my chest full of ache. Beautiful work from Mike. A wonder choice to share here.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks so much, Diana. I’m so glad to know this resonated with you. It’s an intense piece, for sure, and it’s a subject very close to my heart. I truly appreciate your constant support, my dear friend. I’m so glad you’re here. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Always, always delighted to read your work, my friend. I’m planning to share your poem on my blog in the new year. I can’t wait. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Kirsten says:

    Excellent write, Mike. Loved it. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks, Kirsten. I’m so glad to hear you liked it. I appreciate it so much! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Kirsten says:

        You’re most welcome, my friend. 🤗

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Saima.SK says:

    Ohh Mike, it’s so beautiful.. truly amazing👍
    Congratulations! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks so much, dear Saima. I just now saw your comment, so my apologies for the late response. Your always kind and thoughtful reviews mean so much to me, and I’m happy this piece held meaning for you. Thanks for your kindness and support, my friend. I truly appreciate you and all you do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Saima.SK says:

        No problem, dear Mike💕🙂
        My pleasure, dear friend.. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. What a profound poem! Diana mentioned your poem was amazing, but I was not expecting something so beautifully written. Well done, Mike! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thanks so much, Yvette. I’m glad to know you found this poem to your liking. Your kindness is so appreciated! Thanks for reading. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This poem was so absolutely moving it shed light in my innermost fears and I can relate to the awareness of the fact that it can easily be one of us who is homeless based on many plausible factors, just one even, at any given bad time. My deep heartache for the loss of humanity is in response to your words. My favorite line might have been the one about the idiot ambulance lights. You have been heart-wrenchingly impactful with your poem’s “calling out” what is deeply avoided and feared. Capitalism is depicted with its full glut. Wishing you so much grace with your continued writing. It’s needed.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Many thanks for such a thoughtful comment. My greatest fear is homelessness so I wanted to explore the apathy so prevalent in today’s world with regards to the invisible people. Some of these examples are based on things I’ve witnessed in my life and which have stuck with me ever since. The look of empty resignation and hopelessness in the eyes of these people who live on the periphery of society is haunting, and I’m one step away from sharing this fate; we all are. I most certainly wanted to explore the effects of toxic capitalism and how it not only causes but exacerbates homelessness in a winner-take-all society. It hurts my heart to remember that young man with the WILL WORK FOR FOOD sign in the sweltering summer heat, or to recall that dead motorcyclist on that dark desert highway, or the homeless people passed out in the city park. We must remember these people are our brothers and sisters and reconnect with our humanity lest we all become lost and invisible. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here. I appreciate your kindness so much. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  13. balroop2013 says:

    What a powerful and poignant poem! I like the way Odysseus has been used as a symbol to expose the apathy of people around us! Outstanding work! – Balroop.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thank you kindly, Balroop. I was fascinated with the tale of Odysseus and his struggle to make it back home, and it lent itself so aptly to what I wanted to say in this piece. We’re all heroes, everyone of us, and we all struggle, some of us much more so than others. We all matter; we all have value in the grand scheme of things. Each of us has a unique tale to tell, but sometimes we lack a willing ear to listen to us and we end up alone and overcome with hopelessness and forgotten as society passes us by. We’re all but one misstep from being one of these invisible folk. I’ve explored this theme many times because it’s on my mind a lot due to my being disabled and struggling to get by. I fear for us as a species if we can’t even get our act together enough to help our fellow humans up off the streets, you know? Thanks so much for your kind words. I appreciate your reading and commenting so much. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  14. literaryeyes says:

    This sums up our modern world well. How easy it is for people to be invisible when they don’t fit the current narrative. The old narratives though refuse to disappear. Very good poem!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thank you so much. It’s a difficult and painful topic, and one I’ve explored before in my poetry. As someone who’s never fit in anywhere for a variety of reasons, I can definitely attest to the fact that those who are different are ignored. It’s way too easy for society to turn a blind eye to “the others” and just walk on by as thought they never existed. What has become of us as a species when we willing turn our backs on our fellow humans? As a deaf guy in a hearing world, I understand and have lived the experience of not fitting in anywhere and being left by the roadside to watch everyone else pass by. And as a disabled person who struggles to make it from one day to the next, I understand the fear of becoming homeless through no fault of my own. It’s a very real fear. Anyway, thank you for reading and commenting. It’s very kind of you, and I appreciate it. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  15. What a beautiful heart-breaking poem, Mike and yes, I see Odysseus everyday and I try to make the invisible visible with a nod or smile and sometimes with a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold dark day…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Many thanks for the thoughtful comment and for acknowledging the invisible people. Even a simple gesture of kindness can make a huge difference and validate a person’s existence. We never know what the seeds we sow will produce in a person’s life, but when we’re kind to one another, our gardens will flourish with hope and love. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What a lovely comment and yes, it would be a beautiful world if our many gardens ‘flourish with hope and love.’

        Liked by 1 person

  16. CarolCooks2 says:

    I can see why Diana recommended that we read this intense, thoughtful poem…Thank you for sharing Mike 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Thank you kindly, Carol., for such a nice comment. I’m happy to know this poem spoke to you. It’s an intense piece, for sure, but it’s dear to my heart. I think about these invisible, forgotten people often, and how in many ways I’m one of them. Thanks so much for reading and leaving such a wonderful comment. I truly appreciate it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        You are very welcome , Mike 🙂 I hope you have a lovely week 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Awe-inspiring. Your poem. Thanks to Diana Peach for sending me here. I’m off to read your poem again…and again.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mike U. says:

      Many thanks for your kind words. I feel blessed that both Terveen and Diana featured this poem. They’re wonderful people and are so supportive. I’m happy to know you enjoyed this piece. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated! 🙂

      Like

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