Featured Poet: Kelly Flynn, Exeter
Kelly Flynn studied poetry as an undergraduate at Harvard with Seamus Heaney and Helen Vendler, and received her M.F.A. in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she studied with Jorie Graham, Jim Galvin, Mark Doty, and Marvin Bell. A native of Missouri, she currently teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, where she also directs theatre and plays the organ and piano.
I wrote “First Amphora” a few years back after reading The Odyssey for the first time, and found that after my father died last year I wanted to return to it and edit it because it gave me an opportunity to contemplate at greater length the central image of Odysseus returning to his home after a twenty-year journey and opening the first of many amphoras to drink the wine he had stored in them before he left. That image has its hooks in me as a representation of the mystery of the question of what an individual life amounts to at its end, of how we appear to ourselves when we return home, so to speak, after all our battles.
Odysseus opens the first amphora on his return to Ithaca.
But first sleep: a still white lamp, a nurse
whose white palace hand may calm the dark wave
of the rough sails home,
the rough swims.
Then you rise and go down to the dark,
to the jar sealed against the hour,
tall stone curves cut from your stone island,
two-armed and coolly sensual, royal and guarded
by a tall woman. You probably know
she did it for herself, you know
you will join together then each return
to the vigil over the other’s isolation;
she knows she is not what
you returned for, nor even your child,
brave dividend you could not watch watching
it all again through sun-white eyes that burned
your eyes to look into and so you sailed away.
Walk down these stairs into the dark now
and know: so many years ago there was wine
in the amphora, but now maybe only
spider bodies piled in a knot of death, pebbles
from your sandals, a scoop of ashes, a darkness
that can never unfold itself, a handful
of dry salt, a cool pile of moonbeams shrunken
into twigs. You were away from yourself
longer than you know. Then see
what you find when the beloved
with her long arm prizes open, ringingly,
the marble in the cool zone under the world.
It is a history of self solved in blood,
arterially red and war-bright once, but lapsed
and cooling even from your youth,
wine-dark from way back,
the sea you sailed out and home on.