Deborah L. Davitt
When Odysseus and his crew
tried to slip past the sirens,
he stuffed the ears of his men with wax,
but as he wanted to hear
what no man ever should,
he tied himself to the mast,
so that he could listen,
and not be drawn to a watery demise.
I’ve never understood his desire;
I’ve known many people
who’ve complained about a humming sound,
nagging, just at the edge of perception,
unable to resolve it,
unable to dismiss it.
They always looked so abashed
when I signed my sympathies,
so rapid-flustered with their apologies,
as if they’d been complaining to a blind person
about not liking a shade of vermillion.
Each of them, over the years,
As they visited my stall at the farmer’s market,
grew more anxious and tense;
I watched them scratch furiously at their wrists,
catch their earlobes and tug,
the facial tics and contortions,
and could almost chart, with dread,
the day on which their bodies would be found,
dead by their own hands—
Some drowned in the river;
some tried to drown the sound out,
with pills and with booze.
I tried to warn some of them—
move away, I gestured,
wear earplugs; but each of them,
somehow, made Odysseus’ foolish choice.
And I? I went back to my old adobe house
each night, lay out under the stars,
and felt the unheard hum rise up out of the earth,
like an itch in my teeth,
singing up from what lies buried beneath.