Melanthius

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Dante wanders ancient ruins
a crumbled home of once fine stones
all made worse by growling dogs
somewhere in the cloak of dusk.

He smells or senses rot
a tear in antiquity’s fabric
leaving shadowed remnants:
bent shard of an archer’s bow
crusted blood on a dagger
detritus of scattered bones.
And then the scene:
four dogs encircle
    a severed body
missing its private parts, and more:
    scattered
like
        an
                unsolved
puzzle

hair matted with blood
crowning a tortured face
the mouth a supplicant “O.”

Dante draws back and speaks
Why do you suffer so?”

“I am Melanthius, the goatherd
for Odysseus, who returned with his bow
to wreak vengeance.”

“Melanthius…
who sought Penelope
like the swine of suitors
while he was away?”

“The suitors should have won!”
I sneaked out and came back
with shields and spears.
Then Athena–damn her!–appeared
and sent the spear thrusts wide.
His son Telemachus and two herdsmen
struck with volleys of lances
and Odysseus was death
with that bow!”

“He had reason,
“You betrayed him!”

“Spare me your insults.
You were not here for those years!….”

“I spare you nothing!” says Dante.
“Trust must not rust in absence!”

The victim’s eyes beg mercy.
“You and I…both are victims of love!”

Dante steps back.
“I will not rank love with lust.”
He stumbles through the stones
feels desolate within
for Melanthius has proved a mirror
reflecting Dante’s past betrayals
when lust had led away from love,
the affairs in Florence,
as he’d tried to forget his Beatrice.
He’d salved his soul with sex
and found only empty succor.
Now he flees these growls and shouts
meets the cold company of midnight
and
    seeks
        again his path.

Melanthius is Odysseus’ disloyal goatherd in Homer’s Odyssey.

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