May 30, 2005

Achilles' Heel

by William Kloefkorn

MONDAY, 30 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "Achilles' Heel" by William Kloefkorn from Dragging Sand Creek for Minnows © Spoon River Poetry Press. Reprinted with permission.

Achilles' Heel

The student who asks for an explanation
has blue eyes and an oval face
and a voice that implies—
in addition to what it requests—
I just can't understand anything
unless someone alive explains it.

Because I want to believe myself alive
I recount the ancient story—
Thetis gripping her young son's heel
to dip his body head-first into the river Styx,
goddess neglecting then to dip the heel,
so that eventually he'll die
from a wound in that only vulnerable spot,
arrow released from the bow of Paris,
that other heel.

But she doesn't smile,
probably doesn't yet quite get it,
so I tell her how human fallibility
must somehow be accounted for,
how when my brother lay groaning
after a hemorrhoidectomy,
his dark eyes asking the ceiling Why?
I told him that our mother
dipped him newborn
into a Kansas equivalent of the river Styx,
then like Thetis neglected to make immune
that portion of the anatomy she suspended
him from.

And he didn't smile,
so while I had him captive and inert
I explained the ins and the outs
of classical irony,
how a woman though a goddess
had a fallen memory,
how Achilles though clad in first-rate armor
died dead as a stone at the hand
of a third-rate warrior.

The student with the blue eyes and oval face
closes the blue eyes, nods the oval face.
Is she asleep or thinking deeply? No matter:
when she returns already I have moved
to the death of Hector, his body
dragging an oval
outside the beleaguered walls of Troy,

Achilles riding high and for the moment
invincible in the saddle of his chariot,
sword raised and silver
against a slant of blinding
but universal sun.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's Memorial Day, the day on which we honor those who died serving their country. The first Memorial Day was observed on this day in 1868 in Arlington National Cemetery, where members of both the Union and the Confederate armies were buried.

It was on this day in 2002, in New York City, that a wordless ceremony, a public occasion with no speeches, marked the end of the recovery and cleanup at Ground Zero where the World Trade towers had fallen in a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

The cleanup had started as people began to look for survivors in the wreckage, a huge pile, 150 feet high, covering 17 acres. Only 18 survivors were ever found; only one was actually dug out of the rubble, Genelle Guzman, who'd been in a stairwell on the 13th floor of the north tower when it collapsed. She just stopped to adjust her shoe when it got dark, there was a great roaring sound, and when it stopped, she was pinned to the ground.

She lay there for 27 hours before she heard rescue workers. She banged a piece of concrete against the broken stairwell, and they came and got her. She was the last person found alive.

The ceremony on this day in 2002 took place at 10:29 in the morning, the time at which the second tower collapsed. A bell was struck 20 times—the ceremony for a fallen firefighter. 343 firefighters died on September 11. 2,823 people were killed in all, and at the end of the cleanup, workers had failed to find or identify 1,721 of the victims lost in the attacks.

The steel recovered from the site was cut into three-foot sections and sold to scrap metal companies to be recycled for use in making cars and appliances.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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